I have been out of work for two and a half years.
After working for AT&T and former AT&T companies for about 17 years in Yellow Page Sales, I was terminated. I was 59 years, 11 months old. I was told that I was terminated because I had a hearing loss. My termination happened to come the same week as downsizing was announced. I was one of the top sales reps in the company, having won President’s Club three out of the previous four years. The company offered me the equivalent of three months severance if I signed a release, saying I would not sue them for anything including age discrimination.
I had no choice. My husband had lost his corporate job a couple of years before and was working in real estate, although he wasn’t selling anything. I was our sole support. I signed the release. I used all the money in my 401K to pay off debt.
Here I was a 60 year old woman, who made about $120,000 a year. I was a loyal, long term employee of a major corporation, and for the first time in my life I was unemployed. I had a fine liberal arts education (Harvard Extension School), but was unable to find a job.
Since we were renting in Florida, my husband and I had no choice but to move from Florida to Park City Utah, where we owned a condo. My husband, who was 61, and I applied for job after job. After a year, my husband (who had been a corporate vice-president before his company reorganized in 1995 … a few months before his options became due) found a $10.00 an hour part-time job at a ski resort, as a ski valet.
I applied for many, many jobs. I was interviewed and labeled as overqualified. Perhaps that is another term for too old and hard of hearing.
For the first time, we had to rely on the government for help. Fortunately, it was there. I was thankful that Obama’s COBRA assistance allowed us to keep the AT&T medical insurance. My husband has heart risk, and his medications run over $1,500 a month. Without the insurance, we would not have been able to purchase his medication. In addition, I collected unemployment. My husband never collected unemployment when he was terminated from his corporate job because I had enough income to support us. I received $250 a week from Florida (the maximum) until it ran out. My husband was forced to take early Social Security when he turned 62. After looking, every day, for employment I filed for disability benefits. I had no choice. The benefits were denied twice. During that time, I continued to look for work. In March, 2011, the government approved the Social Security Disability benefits.
We never expected to be in this situation. We had savings in our 401K’s. We invested in real estate. We never thought our life’s savings would be wiped out by two and a half years of unemployment. We never expected to retire at such a young age.
I lost my job in December 2008. Two and half years later, my husband still works his seasonal ski valet job. I still fill out many applications for employment each week, hoping I will find the right opportunity. My husband collects Social Security and I collect Social Security Disability. We don’t tell anyone we do this, but it is the only way we can survive. We are penniless. We own the condo we live in, but we have a $10,300 special assessment pending. We will have to take a reverse mortgage to pay it.
When the government encourages people to work until they are 70, they forget that working is sometimes out of the individual’s control. We expected to work at least another 10 years. We feel lucky that we feel young, strong and healthy. We hope that when the economy turns around we will again be able to find employment, Until then, we have no choice but to take the government benefits. Sib M., via email