Two Standout Differences in Oregon

Grateful to Be Retired

Among the stray thoughts that roll around in my head, one repeats itself every time I see a news story about unemployment, underemployment and recession-related job advice: how grateful I am that I am no longer in the workforce.

Retiring was not on my agenda when I was forced into it five years ago, but after a year of futile searching for work, there was no longer another choice. It was painful to accept that my working years were finished but as much as I would have preferred to find a job (I really liked the kind of work I did in those days), I was relieved to leave behind the new employment rules.

Among those rules, which pertain even moreso one recession and half a decade later, are these:

To sell yourself to prospective employers, you must create a “personal brand” - make yourself as individually identifiable as Coca-Cola or Apple or Tampax.

You must erase from your resume all but the last ten years of your career. Anything you learned or accomplished before then is not only irrelevant, it might – god forbid – suggest you are older than 35 which, apparently, has become the age at which workers become too old for paid employment.

If someone does offer you a position, you must be prepared to accept a salary of less than half what you were paid on your previous job for the same or similar work. Understand, too, that you are likely to be hired as an independent contractor which means zero benefits.

This stuff is what the job experts tell job seekers these days. They are also cheer leaders for self-employment. Start your own company, they say, become an entrepreneur, hire others to work for you, be the big cheese. Entrepreneurship is all the rage, we are told, taking America by storm. Even the statistics back up the claim.

According to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, as reported by former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in The New York Times earlier this week:

“'Rather than making history for its deep recession and record unemployment,' the foundation reported, '2009 might instead be remembered as the year business startups reached their highest level in 14 years — even exceeding the number of startups during the peak 1999-2000 technology boom.'

“According to the report,” writes Reich, “most of the growth in startups was propelled by 35- to 44-year-olds, followed by people 55 to 64. Forget Internet whiz kids in their 20’s. It’s the gray-heads who are taking the reins of the new startup economy.”

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it. Exciting, even. And all those older folks leading the way? Wow. Except almost none of those people intend to become entrepreneurs which, contrary to the hype, is almost always about treading water as an independent contractor, not a new business owner.

Because they have been unemployed for months and even years, because they have used up their 401(k)s and IRAs just to stay afloat, they have been forced into trying to work for themselves. It is the only choice left.

As Reich notes in the Times story:

“While some are happy about their new status, most are worse off than they were before. It’s one thing to be a contingent worker in good times and when you’re young; quite another in bad times when you’re middle-aged.”

No kidding. My last job was as an independent contractor. There were no paid holidays, sick leave or vacations. I was required to pay the corporate half of FICA and Medicare taxes as well as my own. I bought my health coverage at an astronomical price on the individual market and couldn't save a dime; I was making less than two-thirds of my previous salary before all the extra expenses.

When another mass layoff came around, my staff colleagues, with whom I had worked side-by-side (and in some cases supervised), collected unemployment insurance benefits until they found new jobs; I was ineligible because I was a contractor.

Even before the recession, the world of work was changing for the worse. With the dramatic unemployment statistics these past two years, people forget that for the previous decade and more, corporate America was already laying off workers in large numbers and sending jobs to low-wage countries. The recession just accelerated the practice, and none of those jobs will ever come back to the United States.

Eventually, some years down the line, we will pull out of this recession (no, I do not believe it is over, whatever government figures say), but the employment world will never again look like it did during our working years.

I don't want to “brand” myself. I know my early- and mid-career experience made my late career both possible and as successful as it was. And whatever those experts try to tell us, working for myself was a bummer. Some of us do not have the skills (or interest) to run a company, even a company of one.

But those are the requirements now and every day I am grateful that I don't need to be searching for work in this new employment world. In certain eras, I think it is a good thing to be among the elders.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcia Mayo: The Little Man


May I just add, AMEN. I was laid off 14 months ago. I am not alone. I meet regulary with about 30 of the 90 people laid off when I was. We are all within 10 years of same age: 50's to 60's.

I am lucky to have SS checks, minimal as they are since I took SS early.Still no job tho I do have 2 small free lance jobs. Our group supports each other even to the extent that if 1 of us needs work in our homes, someone from the group comes out and does it at cost.

None of us can sell our homes given the state of the current market.

I still am trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up. Yes Ronni, you are blessed. And I guess in my own way, so am I. I have my health, family, and great would be a great addition!

Ronni, I have no idea if Time Goes By makes you any money at all. I would guess not. However, my primary fear about retiring (I'm lucky to have a pretty good retirement, for which I'm already eligible) isn't financial survival, but survival of my spirit.

You have a real relationship with a large community, a community that cares about you and depends on you. If you ever question that, re-read our responses to you move postings.
What you have sounds like the kind of retirement I want. You are continuing to make a difference in the world.

Another wrinkle in the mess is the way the "rules have changed" in the workplace. Two younger professional women who are near & dear to me have been unable to find full time employment for the past year. And when they do have an interview or 2 or 3, on occasion, there is most often no follow up email or phone call informing them of the outcome. On more than one occasion, interviewers (many VPs, no less!)show up in jeans & tee shirts. Have we lost all sense of good manners these days. Like you, Ronni, I'm more than happy I'm out of the work force, such as it is. As I get older, I speak up more (nicely)& I'd probably comment on this kinda' behavior. I know...sometimes I hate change:) Dee

The work world has changed in ways that are too subtle for most of us to grasp. My husband realized a while ago that the only way to do well as an independent was to make money for rich people. This involves levels of expertise at knowing your stuff while being able to get along with spoiled rich people that are beyond the skills of most of us. If you blow a fuse the first time your check is late, Mr. Richie Rich will find someone else to do the job. He holds all the cards, rememember. The trick is to appear to be standing up for yourself while flattering the ego of the person I'm tempted to call "the mark." Get paid. That's what counts. That is what Mr. Richie Rich understands.
I note that prospective employees often expect to be employed on the basis of their exemplary qualities. That is juvenile. Your job is to solve problems for Mr. Richie Rich. If you appear to have your own problems, you are out of luck.
I say all this with due respect for the horrors of unemployment and underemployment, as I am just about unemployable myself and very very grateful I don't have to work any more.
My husband is of sterner stuff than I, and his earning abilities are a source of gratitude to his spouse and family, believe me!

At age 58 I'm already experiencing much of what you mention.

Having been self-employed doing interesting project work for several years, now it is increasingly difficult to be considered by the 30 somethings making the decisions. I am not part of their network and the people I've known are being (or have already been) jettisoned. I accept that.

The other problem in recent years has been: getting paid. Corporations have stretched out their payment terms to contractors and small businesses, and in some cases there appears to be a strategy at work..."What's he/she going to do...sue me for $6000?"

What goes around comes around.

An interesting perspective on being self employed and entrepreneurship was provided in the interview Charlie Rose did with Carl Schramm His basic premise is that fostering entrepreneurship is what could pull us out of our recession and allow economies like Iraq to create thriving economies. But Ronni, your point is a thought provoking one. Is encouraging people to start their own companies also a recipe for poverty? Very interesting. I don't know the answer.

In the comment above I should have pointed out that the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity that you reference above is put out by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Carl Schramm whose interview with Charlie Rose I mentioned in the previous comment is the President and CEO of that foundation. Very interesting.

My friend who was recently forced into retirement feels so useless and used up now. I chose my retirement and I think that makes a big difference. I so appreciate the life I have now. The $$ standard of living may be lower, but the quality of life is so much higher without the stress of the work place. I still feel like I do many worthwhile things, so while work occasionally finds me, I don't go looking for it.

I was reminded this a.m. as I fielded calls from my husband's business contacts, that many of them are foreigners or first generation hyphenated Americans.
You have to know how to get along with all kinds. I'm glad we lived abroad for a lot of years.
Foreign experience and language skills are huge assets if one is lucky enough to have them.
Also, several of my friends have joined the Peace Corps! They are taking people in their 60's.

Go, Ronni and Hatti, too!

I have been dying for someone to call out the buckets of bogus advice older job seekers are force-fed, and you did it!

The Brand Called Me thinks that about 25% of this "advice" makes great sense. Lose the attitude (even if justified, as it often is), update your clothes, glasses, computer skills, and resume ... OK. Plastic surgery and fake cheerfulness about having your "own business" when you're really desperately underemployed ... not so much.

I've been to several seminars for elder worker wannabes, and I pay close attention, as you can see, to ideas there that seem practical. The rest seems like a scheme to get us to 1) blame ourselves and 2) keep incredibly busy going nowhere--so we'll be too demoralized to revolt.

In this country, the young have it just as bad as the elder. My daughter, aged 25, a postgraduate in the human sciences is "making" 800€ a month for 25 hours a week's work, which generally add up to much more and has to be pleased that she has found something at all, as her degree is not in commerce or computer stuff. I am certainly happy I don't have to be young in this era.

So here you are having fallen into a new career. :)

We think now that my husband may have a job after a year of searching. He signed a non-competition statement when he was laid off to get the package, and that precludes the new company telling him squat until the first. He packaged himself as a "car Guy." That was just what this new company was looking for. We will know more in a month.

Ronni, you are so on target, as usual. Due to your innate talent for reaching people and your writing skills (honed during all those years we can no longer count on our resumes, right?), you've landed on your feet. As Marcia Mayo observed, you're also making a difference in our world.

At 73 I consider myself extremely lucky to be working part time for the nonprofit I've been with for 35 years. As a part time worker, I no longer get sick leave, vacation or paid holidays, but that's O.K.--I'm happy to have the job. Part of it is financial, (absolutely!) but I've always felt the need to be productive in some capacity--to "earn" the space I occupy on Earth. My husband, who worked from age 14 to 76 and is now fully retired, tells me I've already done that, but I'm not quite there yet. Fortunately, unlike many older workers, I haven't been forced there yet, either.

I've never been much of an extrovert so the idea of "packaging" and "selling" myself or becoming a so-called entrepreneur is downright scary to me. I don't think I'd survive in today's job-search jungle, so if I get laid off due to the loss of local government revenues that largely fund our agency, I'll need to find another way to be productive.

Ronni, you've already got the elder blogosphere humming along nicely, so I'd better start thinking!

The Peace Corp is taking people in their 60's!?! I'm sitting here wondering what the odds are of my being able to get my medications in a timely manner in Namibia and imagining just how far south THAT scenario could go before my inevitable demise!

It is a damnable thing to be thrown out by society. Being a grasshopper instead of an ant all my life, I will be attempting to ferret out an income for the duration of my life, I expect. I've been working since I was a teen. I've followed the work, not in a career but none-the-less working and applying a healthy work ethic in whatever I did that supported the communities and the tasks I have been assigned at the time.

Join the Peace Corp? Joining the Peace Corp would be equivalent to an Eskimo elder catching an ice floe out for a tour of the Bering Strait! Still, I'd rather face-off with a Polar Bear on an icy piece of real estate screaming "It's a GOOD day to die!" (if I only had to do it once...and I think the chances are pretty good that would be a one-time thing...) than deal with the undeserved "disappointment" from yet another bureaucrat, when I would obviously be better suited to supporting my community in volunteering and helping my family.

Sorry to be so long winded - you hit a nerve, Ronni! Ha!

This one really struck a chord for me, Ronni.

I read that an older couple around here volunteered for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps in one of the more obscure former Soviet Union countries. They found renters for their house and signed a two-year lease. Then something happened in "their" country, and it was declared too dangerous to go there. Apparently they didn't get another assignment. They couldn't go back to their own house and had to rent another for the two years! Cile is right--there are so many opportunities to help out in one's own community.

Even thought I still work sporadically for other people, closing my 27 year business last November has taken a weight off my shoulders that feels wonderful to be rid of. I am very happy to let others be where the buck stops!!

Oh, yeah, it's great to be retired and able to hack it financially. A combination of frugality (learned from Depression Era parents), inheritance from my mother and lucky timing of a house sale in Calif., has provided the security of not being old and poor and dependent on my kids. However, all this planning for my old age is now jeopardized by highly educated 40ish kids out of work and/or hugely in debt. Guess who will be bailing them out? There goes the safety net and the college help for the grandkids. So, even though I'm retired and "flush", this jobs mess is going to impact me anyway. I guess ya just can't win.

I saw that Robert Reich article in the Times, and just about the same time there was an article about people getting happier as they get older. It is certainly true for me. I have a good life now, and don't regret for a minute the days when (in my 50's) I was signing those independent contractor statements so the colleges I was teaching in as an adjunct didn't have to give me benefits.

TBG is your new work, Ronni, or perhaps I should say labor of love. You created it and you are the boss. As my pals down under would say, "good on ya!"

"If someone does offer you a position, you must be prepared to accept a salary of less than half what you were paid on your previous job for the same or similar work. Understand, too, that you are likely to be hired as an independent contractor which means zero benefits."

It is a shame that this is so very true. I think that the economics of the working class have changed on such a devastating large scale that many people are forced into retirement too soon, or may not retire due to financial obligations or health care concerns.

Interesting article, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I don't like those changes and am glad I'm not in it now. I was ready to retire when I did at 62 after teaching in the public school system for almost 40 years. That has changed so much that friends still in the system are miserable with the overblown emphasis on testing. I am so glad I'm out of all that now.

My teacher retirement and social security are less than I made teaching (which wasn't ever that great to begin with in TN), but it seems to go farther. I'm making it OK and enjoy doing what I want to.

That article and the reality of work is depressing. Corporate greed is the cause of many of our problems.

Barbara Ehrenreich's book, Brightsided, does a good job of sticking it to the Life Coaches and job counselors who try to sell empty optimism to the unemployed.

This post is a vital service, Ronni. I have no idea what all that LinkedIn networking, self-branding thing is about and I could care less. I'd love to have a job again, but not if it involves that kind of game-playing.

All of it just makes me more furious at the money the top corporate dogs award themselves. That kind of greed brings down whole countries. May the pendulum swing back toward the dignity and quality of life of the the time my grandson comes of age.

P.S. from the Comment Hog. Tarzana has a very good point. My retirement was carefully planned in early '07 and enacted Jan. 1, 08, tanked in August-October '08. I get by because my husband is living and his pensions support us. Every penny I've got of my own has gone to help our kids. One, who just turned thirty, became an instant and reluctant entrepreneur when his company folded; we floated him while he made his own company work. The rest has gone to help out our daughter's family. How do you say no when you have it and they desperately need it in this recession? It's all so tenuously balanced.

We, too have to help support our daughter and son in law, who have a little boy. They both work but can barely get by. They have had some bad setbacks which are not their fault. I hope to see them on their feet soon, because they hate having to be dependent on us.

Last night my husband reported what was said at the latest doom-and-gloom management meeting at his State job. And once again he said he hopes I don't have to return to the workplace. We are both worried as hell his job will be cut. My last ten years of work were over ten years that will get my foot in the door, you betcha.

Lots of responses to this one! I know nothing of the larger work world having been an on the edge creative person/hippie some might say for many years. However, I would ask re: creating your own business, how many of those businesses are around a few years later? It is my understanding that a large number of start ups fall down rather quickly.

The irony here, it always gets me, is that the work force is pushing out folks with so much experiential understanding, knowledge and insight. We turn away from our elders, who have 40-50 years of work and life experience and shove them aside. Unlike in other cultures (though not sure if that's a myth) where elder's experience and knowledge is revered and respected. And all this is for the sake of money from my POV. IE: the elder workers merit higher salaries. The younger workers so desperate for a job will take incoming lower salaries so the company wants them rather than paying out more for experiential expertise.

You are so on target. My husband who is a software developer and in his late 50's has been out of work for over a year. In that time he has had one interview and they didn't bother to call or send a letter. He will tell anyone he really wants a job. He is now doing temp work for the census bureau for 1/8th of his normal salary..all the while telling everyone, I'm working. It's pathetic that people who want to work can no longer do it because of age, jobs off-shored or whatever excuse we come up with.

Starting your own company is not a slam dunk. I owned a company for 10 years, trust me, it's at the other spectrum of being employed.

Thanks Ronnie. Great article.

I wonder when the people in this country will rise up and force massive change and I don't mean the Tea Party movement. It has gotten so bad that I no longer watch the news or read the paper. It is just to depressing.

People need to realize that we are becoming a country of haves and have nots instead of a country with a strong middle class and a sense of fair play.

So many good points to think about here! I started a B&B six years ago. It is great to be my own boss and make a living, but a lot of work. Also, it's weird to realize how many people look down on innkeepers. My husband has several MAs, but Americans often treat us like the "help," ie. servants. That's why we prefer our guests from Europe who have a totally different attitude.

I stopped working last November. I thought it would take awhile to make the adjustment. I still wake up early every morning, but now it is because I look forward to the day. My days fly by. And they are mine. Quiet coffee time in the mornings, reading and sending some emails, working on my blog and reading other blogs, washing clothes and making breakfast. In peace. All the chores can be part of the retirement joy. I am not a go out and run around and visit hoards of people sort of gal. My husband is on social security disability and now I receive my social security benefits and in six months I will be eligible for Medicare. It is an interesting life.

This strikes a chord with me. I'm planning a move cross country next spring and I am by no means optimistic that I will find comparable full time employment when I get there. I think what will happen is early retirement and either contract or part time work, which will be OK because my health is still excellent. Because of the hit my 401K has taken I will have to have some kind of work as long as possible. I am retiring all of my debt in preparation and am crossing my fingers that things work out as planned. This is not quite how I though retirement would work out when I was a teen looking at my future.

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