This article compares diaries written by the unemployed in the 1930s and at the end of the 20th century. It pays particular attention to the structural, social and psychological similarities between the plights of the unemployed in these two periods. Through affirmative reading of the diaries, fully trusting in the diarists' honesty, the authoress tracks the sources of income, the consequences of poverty and joblessness, attitudes towards capitalism, and the diarists' social and psychological condition. Much of the work is devoted to discussion of differences between women's and men's diaries. The authoress attempts to identify the reasons for gender-specific personal narratives which the diaries clearly are. She also discusses the question of self-narrative as a modern way of constructing identity and agency, a painful and often fruitless process for marginalised people.