Lee Bodzioch kept hearing that the economy was improving, so he redoubled his efforts to find a job, sending out résumés by the dozen and spending thousands of dollars to sharpen his technology skills in courses at Boston University.
But at age 57 — with decades of experience and professional connections — he feels shut out. After two years of unemployment, phone calls from prospective employers are increasingly rare. He has had one interview in the last seven months.
“Nothing is happening. Next to nothing,” said Bodzioch, of Billerica. “I don’t know what more I can do.”
Bodzioch is among those trapped in one of the most intractable problems facing the US economy — long-term unemployment — and older workers are being hit the hardest.
The number of people 45 and older who have been jobless for more than a year has quadrupled since 2007, accounting for nearly half of the 3.5 million Americans out of work for more than a year, according to the US Department of Labor.
“Historically, we’ve never seen anything that comes close to this; these numbers are unbelievably high,” said Andrew Sum, director of Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies. “And the longer you’re unemployed, the more likely you are to leave the labor force, and the more likely it’s an early retirement for you.”
This is not a sandy-beaches-and-sunsets type of retirement. After years of financial independence, many must lower standards of living, deplete savings, or rely on spouses’ earnings. The majority are older white men, according to the Labor Department, including many college-educated workers who rebounded from job losses earlier in their careers, only to see employment prospects dim in what should be their prime earning years.
The longer that people are unemployed, the harder it becomes for them to find work, economists say. Their skills atrophy or become outdated. They lose contacts and connections. They are viewed by prospective employers as damaged goods.
“It’s the problem I worry about the most,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist for IHS Global Insight, a Lexington forecasting firm. “We’re condemning these people, creating this permanent underclass.”
Here are three of their stories.
Prospects slipping away
Brian Cody of Ipswich was always able to land a job. In 1998, he left Digital Equipment Corp. in Maynard to work for an insurance company. He left there to work for the software company Sybase, but when sales slowed, he was laid off.
Cody rebounded quickly, getting a job as the marketing director at a business travel firm. And four years later, when the recession hit and he was laid off again, he thought he would rebound as he always had.
That was five years ago.
Now, 60, he still sends out résumés, scans job listings, and attends networking events. But with each passing day, he feels his prospects of ever working again are slipping away.
“I’ve been unable to get a sniff at any type of full-time employment at salaries not even half what I used to earn,” Cody said. “I worry constantly, but you just got to get up and plow ahead.”
In the first two years of unemployment, Cody went on scores of interviews, but said he never felt that he came close to landing a job. Typically, the interviewers were 20 years younger than he was, he said, and did not seem eager to “hire their dad.”
He still applies for jobs, but in recent years nearly all interest and phone calls from potential employers disappeared. Married for 37 years, the father of two adult children, Cody used to earn a six-figure salary. Last year, he landed just two job interviews.
“You draw your self-esteem from a number of different things, and one is your job,” Cody said. “To go through the interview process and find yourself rejected a number of times, well, you’ve got to have a strong sense of self not to come away damaged.”
Cody’s unemployment benefits ran out long ago, and he and his wife live off her income as a marketing consultant. He paints to pass the time and ease his frustration.
The most difficult part of being unemployed, he said, is convincing others he still has something to contribute to an employer, the economy, and society in general.
“I’ve got very concrete, usable experience,” he said. “So why isn’t it resonating in the job marketplace?”
An unhappy chapter
John McLaughlin has made a career out of repairing things, from heating boilers to computers. But the 59-year-old Wakefield resident has been unable to find a fix for his unemployment situation.
Two years ago, McLaughlin lost his job as manager of a Fidelity Investments call center when the company outsourced the work to India. He had worked at Fidelity for 16 years, but took the news in stride, confident he would land on his feet because of his high-tech experience.Continued...