Fayette County

Jobless but not hopeless

Mike Dickerson is 56 years old, unemployed and living at his in-laws' house in Lawrenceburg while the in-laws are in Florida. He and his wife, Barbara, are close to losing their home in Kansas.

Agnes Nelson is 70. Her most recent job was as a holiday cashier at Target. She and her sister pool their Social Security checks to make the payment on their South Lexington home, but that house has no gas heat. She can't afford it.

Losing a job at any age is traumatic, but being unemployed and AARP-eligible carries special challenges.

First, says Jeanne Scott, a state workforce development manager who works for one of the partners in the Central Kentucky Job Center, get your unemployment benefits in order, as that will give you at least some cash. Some of the newly unemployed fall into a panic and are intimidated by the unemployment filing system but, she says, getting an unemployment claim in order and starting to look at what kind of jobs are available helps give some structure to the panic of the newly unemployed. (Job centers will help clients file for unemployment via computer or telephone and show them how to look for available jobs, Scott says. "In today's time, they're struggling, they're scared.")

Second, says Lexington career counselor Carla Ockerman-Hunter, get all the free help you can. Libraries often offer workshops that help with such job-search topics as résumé updating. St. Catharine College offered free spring-semester college classes to the unemployed. Lexington's First Baptist Church Bracktown is planning a "Faith By Works" conference to help those who have lost their jobs, are facing foreclosure or need help finding health insurance; the session scheduled for today was cancelled because of the ice storm.

Try to keep current, even if it's been decades since your last job searches: Trends in what employers are looking for in résumés change, Ockerman-Hunter says. Be sure you're up to date on what's being sought. And don't assume you're ever going to stop learning new technologies: Take a class on computer skills — or, if money is really tight, ask a friend, child or grandchild to show you essential skills such as working with a Microsoft Word document.

And though you might be embarrassed to be out of work after decades of steady employment, don't go into recluse mode: Let friends, extended family members and former colleagues know you're looking for a new job. Let your extended social network help you find job openings.

No matter how hard you work at finding another job in these straitened times, it's still tough to get past the ideas ingrained by recent economic booms — that if you worked hard and saved diligently, you'd be spending your sunset years in leisure: "All of our savings and retirement money ... has been exhausted," says Dickerson. "If my unemployment insurance won't renew, I will seek any kind of employment."

And by any kind of employment, he includes jobs that pay as little as $8 an hour.

Dickerson has been a manager for a sports car club in Topeka, an employee at Versailles' Kuhlman Electric and a Somerset newspaper reporter.

Since he lost his job with the sports-car club, he thinks his best move has been to use the professional job-search sites to update his résumé. Don't use a chronological summary, Dickerson says; instead, develop an executive summary with several bold points within — "a paragraph or two written to say why I'm qualified for the job I'm applying for."

Dickerson doesn't think he'll ever retire now. Still, he and wife, Barbara, have some long-range goals: They'd like to live near the water and maybe get a boat.

Nelson doesn't really see retirement in her future either, but her dreams are, for the moment, more modest: She's like to be able to afford all her utilities, including the warmth of natural gas.

She and her sister Colista Saylor make the $1,258 monthly mortgage payment on their home together. Her sister works part-time. But Nelson wants to work as much as she can — as a secretary, filing papers, running a cash register, laboring in retail. That will pay for utilities and food.

There's no room for leisure in her life, she says: "I know I'm 70, but I'm in pretty good health. I need to work full-time."

Ockerman-Hunter says that job-seekers need to get the word out that they're open to anything — and not admit it if they're intimidated by new technology. "When you say that, that lessens your skill set for an employer," she says. "That's absolutely the beginning of the end."

And she says not to despair over layoffs or taking a long time to find a new job: "Our economy and our job market is retooling. It's not anything that's personal. That's just how the economy is going right now."