Over Fifty and Jobless

Not what we planned for ourselves when we graduated from high school 33 plus years ago. Full of hope and dreams and ready to conquer the world we were. All we had to do was get a college degree or learn a skill, stay the course, and wait to enjoy the fruits of the “Land of Opportunity”. Our parents and mentors told us to seek employment with a solid company, work hard, live a little for today and to put some away for our golden years. It all seemed like sound advice and wise counsel at the time. Some of us where adventurous and chose to reach even higher. We chose to leverage our education and experience and start businesses. Surely that would speed up our savings process and free us to retire in our fifties.

We bought houses because we were told they were sound investments. Over the years we paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest and property taxes because we were proud homeowners. We would receive tax breaks and the values of our properties would grow steadily over time. Sure there would be a few blips along the way but eventually our house would be paid for and it would be worth a bunch of money. We were leveraging other peoples’ money. Life was good. We even managed to tighten our belts and put our money into this wonderful investment vehicle called a 401k. We could fund this account with pre-tax earnings and enjoy tax deferred growth on the entire balance. The companies we worked for were so generous some of them even matched a certain portion of our contributions. Our prosperity was assured. It was good to be alive.

Truth be told we didn’t actually love our jobs. We worked more hours than we would have liked. We missed most of the important events in our children’s lives. We had a miserable 1 or 2 week’s vacation a year. If we lingered long enough to be rewarded with 2 or 3 weeks we were then “discouraged” from taking the weeks consecutively. If we didn’t (couldn’t) use the vacation days during the fiscal year we lost them. They were a privilege and not a right. We usually anticipated we would have so many e-mails to respond to and so much work waiting for us when we got back that we never got to really relax on vacations anyway. We suffered on the receiving end of the great corporate motto “anything is possible as long as we don’t have to do it”. Our stress levels grew steadily over our careers as we were pressured to meet arbitrary deadlines and were encouraged to take pride in our world-beating productivity. We suffered under foot of corporate climbers that were willing to step on anyone and anything to climb the proverbial ladder.

We were compensated only just sufficiently to keep us in the job. The very definition of free enterprise dictates that we had to be paid less than we were worth. In order for the captains’ of industry to make a profit they had to sell products or services for more than what it cost to produce them. We were in the production side of the equation. That being said, we had jobs. They kept a roof over our families’ heads and food on the table. Many of us even derived a certain prestige in the titles that we were so graciously awarded. We weren’t the bosses and we weren’t wealthy but we had direction and we had value in society.

Then all hell broke loose. A minor downtrend in housing evolved into a terrifying rollercoaster plunge. Moving downward at break-neck speed we eagerly anticipated the rebound that surely must come. For many that transition is still nowhere in sight.

Now we find ourselves in a most uncomfortable situation. Many of us have lost our jobs, our homes, our businesses and large portions of our retirement funds. We are still energetic and eager to be productive but the roadblocks are formidable. As a reward for dedicating years to a given company or industry we are now told that our experience is too limited. We only know the construction industry, for example, and would have no clue how to apply the same basic GAAP accounting principles to the hospitality industry. We put our pride in our pockets and apply for positions paying one half or less of what we were earning previously only to be ridiculed and grilled by human resource gurus. Why would we accept such a large pay cut? We have to explain being over-qualified if we even get blessed with the opportunity of an interview.

Those fortunate ones who have survived the retrenchments, and who have found themselves in the right industries to ride the storm, now play “God” with the rest of us. Rummaging through the huge excess of applications they receive for every legitimate job posting, they demand ludicrous qualifications for even the most mundane opportunities. To add insult to injury they do not offer even a courtesy computer-generated rejection e-mail or letter. We spend countless hours wading through scams to discover a legitimate job opportunity. Then when we find one we spend time completing exhaustive application forms and personality tests only to be totally ignored. It is easy to become frustrated and disheartened but we cannot give up. What is the alternative? We must provide for the basic necessities of life.

In the midst of this nightmare we start to neglect basic maintenance of our bodies and our possessions. There is no money for dental cleanings and annual physicals. There is no money for routine car maintenance. We stretch every dime we have and tighten our already austere budgets. The reality though is that at some point we must have income. What do we do? Unemployment insurance is not the answer. Who can live in the United States on $1,000 a month? Do we move in with family? Do we join the homeless?

We tell ourselves logically that we are great employees. Employers fear that we will take the modest jobs and then jump ship as soon as the economy rebounds. The hot shot corporate climbers with the fancy degrees and finely tuned interview skills will do exactly the same thing, and probably a lot sooner. We know the cost of training new employees and we have an intimate understanding of the value of a job. The risk to an employer of taking on an experienced loyal employee who might need a short period of adjustment to a new industry must be far smaller than trying to keep the hot shot happy. There will always be thoroughbreds but there will also always be a far greater need for honest faithful workhorses. We may not jump up and down and shake our pom-poms at company meetings, but we are dependable, efficient and dedicated to getting the job done.

So what do we do? We try to become self-sufficient and find legitimate work-from-home opportunities. We consider moving to other states or even foreign countries like the United Arab Emirates. We keep pounding the sidewalks hoping that business owners and corporate hiring types will catch the vision. We rely on our family and our circles of influence. We continue to adjust our dreams and expectations downward. We manage health and personal possessions on a crisis-by-crisis basis. We keep hoping that at least part of the American Dream can be restored.

You can no doubt tell that we are not too enamored with corporate life. As the old adage goes, “the only thing worse than having a job, is not having one.” We have also very likely ruffled more than a few feathers with the cliched descriptions of certain corporate individuals. They will even probably cite our comments and stated attitudes as justification for their hiring methods. The truth is at 50 years of age most of us are wise and mature enough to know that life involves doing things we don’t like at times. The hope is that those who are hiring will humble themselves and acknowledge that the major motivation many of us have for working is money. The fact that we don’t love our jobs does not preclude us from being valuable long-term employees. These were supposed to be our peak earnings years. We would now settle for far less.

By Brian Hancock at http://bhealthy2.com

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