Sunday, March 14, 2010

Facing Unemployment at 50+

The Devaluation of Work, Accomplishment and Experience in American Business

I rarely write about personal issues on this blog, but today is an exception.

Immediately after High School, I excitedly joined the Navy. After scoring highly in the aptitude tests at the time, I was recommended for clerical or intelligence work. In the infinite wisdom of the Navy at the time, I was sent to cook’s school; something to which I never aspired, nor had any interest. A cook I remained, and that fact, alone, prompted me to take an early (honorable) discharge, and set my sights on the private sector.

My World War II generation parents, both veterans, instilled in me a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attitude, and pull I did.

I have worked diligently since I was 21 in the private sector, starting out at the bottom; schlepping boxes in a small, privately owned distribution firm in 1974. I worked hard, and my work was shortly rewarded; being promoted to an office position in a fairly short period of time and eventually assuming the job of “Customer Service Manager”. This job consisted of overseeing the order entry clerks and handling problems.

It was during this period that physical records were being replaced by computers; an area that fascinated me. This small company for which I worked contracted an outside source to handle the data processing, which was common at the time. The process consisted of paper records being physically translated to a “punch card’ system, so that a mainframe could produce reports regarding accounts payable and receivable. Inventory was still kept on ledger cards. Eventually, the technology advanced from a “punch card” system, to a fully online accounting, order entry, and inventory system. I had a natural aptitude for this new technology, as well as an in depth knowledge of the entire operation and was selected as the liaison between the company and the developers and the company providing the IT services. These were heady and exciting times.

By the mid 80’s, business had taken a turn for the worse, and in January, 1987, the company was sold. The new owners decided to keep the facility and continue operations, under their name, and promoted me to Operations Manager. Life was good, and I ran the best facility in the company; in terms of efficiency as well as the conciseness of inventory records. I enjoyed my work, had a wonderful staff, and was able to create a work environment that was conducive not only to productivity, but to employee satisfaction. I told them early on that “we may never be the largest facility in the company, but we will be the best”, and that we became.

Life went on in this manner until the early 2000s and business started to change and, by 2004, it was clear that change was in the offing for my company. The decision was made to consolidate two distribution centers into one, thus closing mine.

At 50, after a productive 30 year career, I was on the street, albeit with a severance package. After six months of job searching, it became clear that there was little interest in a 50 year-old, regardless of experience. With the severance and the unemployment waning, I saw an ad in the newspaper, soliciting Flight Attendants for a regional airline. Let’s face it, this job didn’t exactly fit my demographic, and that’s an understatement. I decided, as the saying goes, to “turn lemons into lemonade”.

Well, as I have often said; I went to the interview (cattle call) having no expectation of being hired and, if hired, no expectation of staying. It was merely an interim job to keep a little (very little) income flowing into the household coffers. As fate would have it, I was invited to attend training. After having passed training, I assumed the unusual life of a Flight Attendant, a role in which I excelled. After about a year-and-a-half, I was asked to apply for the job of “Recruiter”. As with the Flight Attendant position, this required constant travel; giving public presentations and conducting interviews nationwide, with administrative work to be completed in-between travel assignments. It was highly rewarding, yet grueling, but with large amounts of caffeine, I was able to do it.

Eventually, this non-stop lifestyle took its toll and I developed serious health problems as a result. Simultaneously, the company fell upon difficult economic conditions and recruiting was a “back burner” operation. Due to my experience with spreadsheets, combined with my analytical and communications skills, I was retained to accomplish other tasks. Alas, the retention requires me to commute 500 miles each way, by air, five days per week. This requires 14 hour days, or 70 hour weeks, paying for my own meals for less than $27K in compensation. Getting up every day at 4:30 AM and not returning home until 8:30 PM is not only fatiguing beyond belief and it eliminates any personal life, whatsoever. Finally, upon long-standing advice from my doctors, I have decided that the personal risk is no longer worth the ever-diminishing compensation.

So, with a State unemployment rate at 10.7%, the future is not particularly bright at 57; too young to retire and too old to find gainful employment.

Lest you think this is whining; it’s not. It is a lament that I am sure resonates with many in my age group. We were the generation that created the “youth-worship” that we still see today and it has resulted in our being “tossed to the curb”.

We created the means of our own destruction by elevating youth above experience and wisdom, and now we reap the whirlwind. Collectively, we have dealt a serious blow to the “American Dream”; perhaps a mortal one.


Anonymous said...

It was good time while it lasted?

Dale said...

Well, I've enjoyed everything that I have done, including the airline gig. The problem is that, no matter what you do, more is always the requirement. One sacrifices one's personal life for the benefit of "the organization", and what does one get in return?