The recession and concurrent spike in unemployment hit baby boomers especially hard. Since 2007, the unemployment rate for those 55 and older has more than doubled, and workers in this age group are also the most likely to be unemployed long term -- in 2010 nearly half spent at least 27 weeks looking for work.
But, though it may be difficult for older workers to find jobs in today's economy, it's certainly not impossible. Here, two people share their stories of job loss, struggle and, eventually, success.
Joaquin Barry, concessions manager, Chicago State University
Joaquin Barry was working as a recruiting manager at Grant Thornton LLP, the fifth-largest accounting and management firm in the world, when the company downsized in 2008. Though Barry had been with the company for nearly 10 years and had a dozen divisions under his management, he still lost his job in the layoffs. Just as Barry's unemployment benefits were running out, opportunity knocked.
On losing his job: I was devastated. I was supporting my mother who has Alzheimer's, a mortgage and I had just enrolled in grad school so retirement was not an option. Plus I was only 48 at the time. I felt I had a lot of good networking connections and knew a lot of people, but the industry 'seized-up' -- no one was hiring and people were calling me for advice, referrals and jobs. At that point I would have taken any job I could get, but no one was hiring and no one wanted to take a chance, because of my previous salary. What a joke the way we treat people at times especially when they basically say okay 'I will work for food.' Because for so many of us that is what it would come down to, work or die."
How he found work again: Barry enrolled in the Chicago Career Tech Program, designed to help unemployed job seekers learn new and in-demand skills. After completing courses in project management, Barry began looking for jobs that would put his new skills to good use.
"Someone I knew from fourth grade had an opening at their company and needed someone who was familiar with process and procedures, that could think fast on their feet and ramp up very quickly. They told me the job didn't pay much, but by this time I had cut away so much from my budget that I knew what I needed to survive on. They told me I would need to go through the same hiring process as everybody else, but they wrote a glowing letter of recommendation and I was fortunate that God smiled upon me and allowed me to do something I really enjoy and earn a paycheck as well."
His advice: "Find a good friend to confide in, allow yourself to go through the entire life-cycle of losing your job, know the difference between being sad versus depression, develop a great deal of patience, acceptance and tolerance for all things because in most cases your personal turnaround may not happen overnight. Learn to laugh at yourself, smile everyday and realize that the cheerleader now needs someone to cheer for them. Do something fun and just remember to not ever give up on yourself. Know that you have so much more to offer the world and any employer would be damn lucky to have you on their staff."
Al Corea, Hoodz franchise owner
After 17 years as a fire inspector in Nevada, Al Corea (pictured) was laid off, still eight years shy of retirement. After searching for work with various other fire departments to no avail, Corea decided to take his knowledge in a new direction, and conferred with a franchise consultant about opening his own business.
How he found work: "A franchise consultant introduced me to Hoodz [a kitchen exhaust cleaning franchise]. Because I was a fire inspector, I knew all restaurants were required by the Nevada state fire marshal to have their kitchen exhaust systems cleaned. I saw the money making potential from the number of restaurants in the area and [the fact that exhaust cleaning was a] repeat business. Owning Hoodz was a perfect fit because I took all that I knew about fire inspection services and translated into my hood cleaning business. The transition is smooth and I know the industry very well. Owning Hoodz enables me to be my own boss and do something to keep the community safe. It is a great feeling to work for myself and control my own destiny."
His advice: "You don't have to settle for just any job. You should go with what fits your past experiences and something that you already have a head start in. I knew a lot about kitchen hood cleaning and a franchise consultant helped me make the connection. When I became unemployed I did a lot of thinking about what I really wanted in a career. Being unemployed made me know it was time to start my own business; it gave me an incentive to do something."
Are you a baby boomer looking for work? Check out these additional resources:
- Retired Brains, a job and resource center for baby boomers looking to make a career transition
- Snabbo.com, an online social network for baby boomers. Get networking!
- Boomers into Business: How Anyone Over 50 Can Turn What They Know into Dough Before & After Retirement
Stories from AARP