Baby boomer stories: some advice, hopes, some fear

The Associated Press Published:

The faces, thoughts, hopes, fears of baby boomers, long a powerful demographic but hard-hit by the recession:

Hands off pension

Toledo resident Stephanie Beckman has some advice for out-of-work boomers: Do your homework and keep your hands off your retirement funds.

At 59, Beckman never dreamed she would still be out of work after losing her job as a secretary in 2002.

"I've gone through my pension funds," she says. "I get food stamps. I'm living with my son."

In spite of going back to school to be a paralegal and get a master's degree in counseling, Beckman still hasn't landed a job. Among the factors keeping her unemployed, she believes, is her rheumatoid arthritis -- a condition that is visible in her hands.

Before a laid-off worker invests money in a new education, Beckman says they should "speak to people in that field and ask them what the hiring process is going to be."

And: "Do whatever you can to keep from touching your pension," she says.

"Between my disability, my age and the economy, if I would have known how this would be, I never would have touched my pension."

Despite a bleak outlook, Beckman says she has not lost all hope, and still applies for jobs.

"I don't want people to say, 'Stephanie doesn't have a job because she doesn't try to find one,' " she says.


Kate Giammarise, The (Toledo) Blade

Back to college

Columbus resident Nancy Seagraves, 61, has been out of work for about seven months, since she was laid off because of cutbacks after two years as a dispatcher for a cable company. She lives with her daughter and her 13-year-old grandson and says she has been trying to make it on about $200 a week in unemployment benefits, turning to a food bank and other programs for help.

She said she has put in applications weekly for a variety of jobs, including at a fast-food restaurant and a grocery chain, but has yet to get a callback.

She'd prefer something in line with her previous work in customer service, but "if it's something I think I can physically do, I apply for it," she said.

In the meantime, she's serving as a receptionist at an AARP Foundation office as part of a program that provides financial support and subsidized training for some low-income, older workers while they're looking for full-time work. She's also starting to take college classes in hopes of helping her chances in the job hunt.

"I don't want to say it's more difficult for seniors than it is for anyone else, but it just seems I've had a difficult time," Seagraves said. "I don't know if I can relate that to being in the senior demographic or what, but it is difficult out here looking for a job. You have family issues, you just have -- just being able to pay for gasoline, you know, if you're driving a car to try to find a job."

It's been frustrating for Seagraves, who said she was once steadily employed in customer service with an industrial plastics company for more than 25 years, before losing that job in 2001.

"I've never been able to get in the same line of business," she said.

Since then, she has bounced between unemployment, lower-paying jobs and an attempt at running her own business selling collectibles, while caring for several ill family members along the way.

But she remains optimistic.

"I feel really good that something will turn up for me," she said.


Kantele Franko, The Associated Press

Still thankful

There are some people who are thankful for what they've got -- regardless of how little that may be.

Sue Monks lost her job as a receiving manager for an Akron-area trucking company more than two years ago. There's no more unemployment, no health insurance, and at 61 and divorced, she's not eligible for Social Security.

"It's true-- I was kind of at the end of my career, but I wasn't ready to give it all up," she said.

Nor was she prepared for how tough it would become.

"I never planned to not have a private retirement and insurance above and beyond Social Security and Medicare," she said.

Still she is thankful for most everything including the $200 in food stamps she receives each month.

If anyone had predicted five years ago that Monks would be in such a predicament, she would have suggested they were out of their mind.

"But despite what difficulties I'm dealing with ... I am still so blessed," said Monks, who lives with her sister in an Akron suburb. "How many have what I have? You see people standing by the freeway holding a piece of cardboard that reads, 'I'm homeless, jobless with two kids and a wife.'

"I've got it a little bit rough, but compared to some other people," she added, "I have it much better than they do."


Kim Hone-McMahan, the Akron Beacon Journal

Growing anxious

George Gortz had been an advertising representative in the magazine industry for 30 years when he received the news that shook him to his core. A senior manager flew in to Cleveland to severe the relationship personally, which Gortz appreciated. He takes a breath before projecting a voice of understanding.

"They decided to consolidate my territory and have a couple of younger people take over," he said. "That happens."

After the shock eased, he assessed his situation. He felt fit, savvy, at the top of his game. Print magazines were fading but online publications were springing up. He resolved to find a way back into his trade, tuning out the voice that asked, "Do they want someone 60 years old selling for them?"

More than a year later, he's still ignoring job counselors who gently advise he settle for part-time, low-wage work, as if he were 19 again. And he's growing anxious.

"It's tough if you're a baby boomer," said Gortz, who rises each morning at his University Heights home with an action plan. "You've acquired a lot of knowledge and experience. And you don't get that overnight."

Yet the few people who have interviewed him seem to be looking for someone younger, hipper, cheaper. They look casually past his personal earthquake.

"I figured I had everything a publication would want in a rep," he said. "I like helping people find a solution. I love my work. I really do."

His voice dropping an octave, he added, "I figured I'd last longer."


Robert L. Smith, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

'Always worked'

Until two months ago, Gregory Woodson, 55, worked for company that did scanning, copying, made PDF documents, mainly for law firms. It's a small business that lost a couple of accounts in the past few months, and had to make layoffs.

"There wasn't enough work. I was one of the last ones hired, so you know how that goes," he said. He had left an office management job to join the company two years ago.

"Now I can't find a job."

Woodson said for most of his generation, such bleak prospects are something new.

"I hadn't been in this situation since the '80s. I have always worked," he said. "When we were young, we could always find work. Absolutely. This is like a kick in the face."

Woodson, who is single, gave up his apartment and moved in with his sister. The unemployment compensation isn't enough for him to keep his own place.


Dan Sewell, The Associated Press

Far from beaten

"Well, my 401k is gone," Sharon Minelli-Jablonski declared in early March, after almost one year out of work.

Her 20-year-old car runs on cheap gas and prayer. She switched the lease on her Olmsted Township apartment from year to year to month to month, quit her land line and cable TV, and cut up most of her credit cards.

She's nervous, but far from beaten.

Minelli-Jablonski, a 50-year-old divorced mother of two grown children, faces the dilemma of her generation.

"I've been trying to figure out how to reinvent myself," she said.

For that, she needs an employer to give her a break. If she's confident, it's largely because she's often succeeded where others have not.

As a logistics expert for an area franchise of the Hub Group transportation company, she earned about $40,000 a year connecting freight to truckers who could haul it. It was a man's job when she assumed the post nine years ago. On May 11, 2011, her job vanished in a corporate consolidation.

Before dispatching truckers, Minelli-Jablonski worked as a stylist for Hair Care Harmony, becoming one of the chain's regional trainers.

Three years ago, she finished her bachelor's degree.

"Being a college graduate, I'd like to keep moving up," she said. "I've got plenty to offer."

She thinks she would be good in sales, customer service, operations management. Yet her job inquiries have been met with silence or rejection.

"I constantly keep saying, 'This is a new chapter. It's going to get better. And I'm going to move on from here,'" she said. "I'm looking. I look every day."


Robert L. Smith, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer

Maybe part time

Karen Clark, 65, of Dublin, has found both financial support and a sense of community service through an AARP program, helping find jobs for others going through the same kind of struggles she has experienced.

"We seem to be getting a lot of people that haven't worked for a long time -- I mean, over three years," Clark said. Some have just been out of luck; others have been out of the workforce while caring for ailing parents or spouses, she said.

Clark had jobs with a bank and an insurance company before embarking on a jewelry business partnership with a friend. When that failed, she began working with the AARP program -- which assists some low-income, older workers -- to keep earning money. She took a telemarketing job several years ago, but found that monotonous and eventually left, returning to AARP.

The kink comes next summer, when Clark said she'll reach the four-year limit on participating in the program. She'd love to retire and do more community volunteer projects but has little savings, and the bills will still need to be paid.

"I'm looking into a reverse mortgage on my house so that maybe that will be possible, or else just doing like a receptionist position, or something similar to what I'm doing here," she said. "Maybe just part time."


Kantele Franko, The Associated Press