My Odyssey of Four Years of Unemployment

MY ODYSSEY IN TODAY’S ECONOMY By George N Romey October 29, 2016 This is the story of my near four year long experience through unemployment and underemployment. Although this is my own personal story, I am by no means unique in this situation. Many others my age with my comparable education and work experience have too lived a horror that was beyond their worst nightmare. This is the story of what has been occurring to many middle aged former middle managers; displaced from the workforce and never given the opportunity to again hold a job that utilizes and leverages their many talents, skills, abilities, experiences, and tenacity. Never again able to earn anywhere near what at one time they enjoyed. This is my odyssey of the new American nightmare. First, I am currently 57 years old. Today I am grossly underemployed working several part time jobs while continuing to look for full time work day in and day out. My current wages of about $5,000 to $10,000 per year are more than 90% lower than the $118,000 I made in my last year of full time work, 2012. I have over 35 years’ experience in banking, finance, operations, and management. I hold a BS in business as well as an MBA in business from well-respected state universities. Throughout my entire life I have been deemed smart and ambitious. During college I worked in a steel factory during summer breaks to earn more money rather than join college friends working at the beach. I started my professional career the week after graduating from college and returned to school ten years later to obtain my MBA while working full time. Throughout my life I have changed jobs several times to excel my career, never afraid of a challenge or new situations. Before all this started friends often called me “lucky” and were envious of my life. I certainly knew that in many ways I had been fortunate. I lived in the West Village of New York, traveled often, had unique and wonderful life experiences and maintained a positive, energy infused stance and outlook on life. Those friends and experiences are now distant memories. How do I explain to family and friends what has happened to me when I can’t understand it myself? Unlike many others, I escaped the initial employment slaughter that began in 2008 and lasted through 2011. I was doing financially well while many around me were being thrown out of jobs. Condos and apartments were being lost. Friends were moving back with aging parents. Savings and retirement accounts were quickly drained. Although no one close to me, there were those that I knew of that committed suicide facing financial destitution and little hope for a better tomorrow. The small company I was working for had been bought by new owners that were not particularly equipped to manage the company well. Although I was concerned about their inability to make good decisions, a sour job market discouraged me from leaving. In February 2013 I was called in by the CFO and my boss and let go. I was one of the highest paid employees and the Company was suffering from negative cash flow. I was given no notice but ten week’s severance. While disappointed, I took the firing as a sign that it was time for a change in my life and what would surely be a new and better direction. By this time I was tiring of New York living. I was getting older and a little home with a patio and maybe a small spot to grill was becoming more appealing than a match box apartment in New York. Manhattan in particular is a great place for the young but we all mature and eventually give up the night life (or at least we should). Not to mention the cold winters albeit I had been able to easily escape those on a regular basis. After spending about a month considering my options I decided to move to South Florida as warm weather year round and maybe a more sedate lifestyle beckoned me. In addition, my brother and his girlfriend had relocated about six months ago to the area and welcomed me to stay with them for a while as I got settled and looked for a new job. While I was very much in tune with the difficulty of the job market, I was encouraged that I would eventually do just as well, if not better than before. Friends, coworkers, former customers all expressed their belief that I would quickly land back on my feet. After all, I was smart, experienced, educated and hard working. In my estimation it would probably take me three to six months, and yes it would be difficult, but I had all the confidence in the world in regards to my abilities and any value proposition to a prospective employer. My first stop in the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area was to all of the major recruiting firms that agreed to see me after I had sent a resume to them. The meetings appeared to go very well with most of the recruiters impressed by my presence and stating that placing me should not be a difficulty. However, upon following up with each and every one of them I was systematically snubbed and told no opportunities exist and they would “call me” if something came up. By the tone in their voices they were dismissive and not at all encouraging. This was my first sign that the job market had morphed into something unimaginable and illogical. Resumes sent to positions that I had great experience for went unanswered. Follow up calls would tell me that there was a process and if I was chosen for an interview I would be called, otherwise there was nothing to discuss. This matched what so many others in the job market were saying, hundreds of resumes sent and never an interview. The interviews I did secure became bizarre experiences. Rather than discussing my past achievements hiring managers only seem to focus on my ability to make a spreadsheet or read a large data dump, both of which I’ve done but not what I really had to offer. Few times there were questions about my decision making, communication, leadership or organizational skills. Just could I produce a batch of spreadsheets in a hurry? Many of the experiences that I went through went beyond unprofessional and into the land of crazy and nonsensical. I had interviewers not show up, I was interviewed by entry level employees, I had people start talking on the phone while I was trying to talk, I was sent into interviews for a positon different than from what the recruiting firm had said, I had interviewers suddenly start to rant and rave about some odd item. Most of all, time after time I got the “you are overqualified, too experienced, would get bored, wouldn’t fit in (presumably with younger workers) or wouldn’t like this job. Trying to overcome these objections quickly turned an awkward encounter into something worse, like I was a poor old man begging for a few scrapes and crumbs. Suddenly the evil of being overqualified became more paramount than underqualified. This strange phenomena took me for a total loop and even took me months to figure out. In the past it was always trying to prove to a prospective employer that you had the “right stuff” for the job. Now you felt the need to dumb down yourself as not to appear too smart, experienced or ambitious. Unfortunately, when you have decades of experience dumbing yourself down is not an option. Presumably you should be acquiring more and more skills as you progress through life. How can you realistically get someone to believe you learned very little from your years of work experience? What jobs that are readily available to former professionals such as myself are part time working mostly in the field of merchandise and retail support. Jobs include stocking store shelves, promoting products and constructing store displays. All of these jobs typically are no more than twenty hours a week and rarely ever pay more than $15 an hour. Even if one strings three or four of these jobs together they will still end up financially far behind were they were before. The two full time jobs that I did end up in were fleeting at best. One job the CEO decided after three months she didn’t want the position to remain filled and to the horror of coworkers (and me) I was sent off with two week’s severance. The other job was a commissioned sales job trying to sell consulting services to very small businesses. It would take pages to fully explain the depraved business model these psychopaths used but suffice to say it lacked any moral fiber or code of ethics. So other than those two jobs over the past near four years it’s been part time work and sometimes no work. No surprise all savings are gone. I’ve incurred debt to stay alive, most likely I will never be able to repay. I’ve leaned to live extremely frugal never buying an item unless I desperately need it. I haven’t had health insurance in over three years, a very scary thing in one’s mid to late 50s. Most of my clothes are old and worn. I drive an eleven year old car. No dentist in many moons. I don’t eat well only having the resources to buy processed cheap food. The stress alone tears at me every second of the waking day and at night. How I have avoided a heart attack or stroke from this overwhelming stress is beyond me. Somehow I have gotten through these past few years but my time is at end. I’m down to my last $3,000 plus whatever I can make in four part time jobs that pay between ten and fifteen dollars an hour. I rent a room from a very troubled woman. By the end of November I will face total financial ruin and homelessness and right now there is nothing on the job front. Homelessness at age 57 is not an option. I would be treated like, live like and die like an animal. The only other option is suicide, which I have thought about every day of my life since early 2014. I come closer and closer each day to the realization this will be my only out. I have spoken to suicide prevention health professionals; there is nothing they can do. They can’t solve my economic issues and they can’t get me a decent full time job. I think of this very sad, pathetic situation in a surreal way. How can the guy that was always so motivated and tenacious be in this position? I haven’t changed or gotten lazy or addicted to drugs and alcohol. How can the guy that was always so successful, positive and full of life now be forced to end his own life by his own hands? How did this happen? It lacks any sense of logic or reason. Now the bigger picture. As I said above I am not alone. We have soaring morality rates for middle aged, particularly men that are facing the same dire circumstance. Coming back from homelessness is near impossible at a young age, for an older adult it’s a death sentence filled with misery, despair and total degradation. Possibly I’m fortune enough to be able to articulate my experience well and speak for those that have difficulties speaking for themselves. This cruel twist of faith has sent me to various social media platforms along with conducting my own massive research to understand the problem. Clearly our corporate sector no longer values older workers and just as soon dispose of them. The trend is quite troubling. Spend time reading the postings on LinkedIn or Facebook and you realize just how widespread this problem has become. Will workers at age 45 habitually be subject to employment terminations then when unable to acquire a comparable replacement job descend into financial hell, save for those with a spouse with an excellent income or those with family money? Will this be the future for some of the professional class that isn’t well connected or lucky enough to have a specialized in demand skill? I likely won’t be here to witness the start of 2017 as much as I want to live, continue to make a contribution to society, learn, experience new things, make others laugh, engage in new friendships and all the things that make life worth living. Instead I will need to plan out my demise and carry it out with sorrow and pain unthinkable to most. I always saw myself living to a ripe old age or maybe dying in an unfortunate accident like a plane crash. How I got to this current state boggles every cell in my body.

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  • Marc Peot
    commented 2016-11-09 14:14:44 -0500
    Please consider coming here to Colorado — I’m sure you could jump thru all the hoops and get a job in the MMJ/ retail industry here. Housing is very tight due to so many doing exactly that but at least you might have a better shot than there in the Sunshine State. And we are having a drought winter, it looks like this year, thanks to Catastrophic Global Climate Destabilization.
    Regardless, our stories are similar and if I could I would offer you lodgings.

    Goddess Bless you

    p.s. For stress, get some chewable GABA tablets at a natural grocer. Holy Basil, by New Chapter, is also very effective, though a bit more $ — $20 vs.$12 or so.
    Be sure to drink cold water as it gets into the bloodstream in 5 minutes. I have stopped many panic attacks with this stuff.
  • George Romey
    published this page in Ask Prof. Wolff 2016-11-05 14:49:02 -0400