"This is not the end of the world." My friend Bill McBride was on the phone providing some comfort and context on the day I learned I had lost my job.
After working for the newspaper for over 30 years, I was suddenly on the street with more than 50 other reporters and editors. That was nearly six years ago when I found myself over 60 and jobless.
It was the beginning of a six-month nightmare that had me doubting my skills, questioning my confidence and wondering if I would ever work again.
Unfortunately, my jobless saga has become all too common. Since 2005, the number of unemployed workers 55 and over has nearly tripled to 2.2 million, almost half out of work for more than six months. Like most of them, I wandered the streets, fired off dozens of letters and job applications, all greeted by silence. Age, for all of its benefits, was the enemy. Friends colored their hair, doctored their résumés and discovered a whole new language for dealing with health insurance.
That's also my vantage point for what has truly been a dreadful decade — starting with 9/11 and the rise of terrorism and closing with an economic upheaval of historic proportions and a growing gap between rich and poor, rising anger, impatience and paralyzed political institutions.
Since my first byline appeared in the old Berea (Ohio) News, I've found work I love. But like the auto, steel and other manufacturing industries, newspapers have been buffeted by change — in their case by declining readership, new technology and a shriveling business model. It's not a pretty picture.
Here's the new reality: The old jobs are gone. But more important, for the millions out of work, a support system exists — classes, counseling, job-search tips and tools. (See aarp.org/work/job-hunting.) "Recareering" is happening — for auto workers, engineers, bankers and builders. The communications industry, for example, is remaking itself. There are thousands of websites reporting news. The AARP Bulletin has become more important as a source of credible, timely and useful information in print and online. Our articles have prompted investigations, challenged presidents and lawmakers, and saved lives.
What I really discovered during my nightmare, though, was the importance of friendship. My friend Bill's call came at the perfect moment. He had been caught up himself in the wild swings of the New England computer industry, so he knew my anxiety. His suggestion, borrowed from another friend: "Stay positive. Consider that you're 'between assignments.' "
This is a grim time. The dominant trends are driven by the calamities of the past decade and aggravated by angry rhetoric, hyperbole and polarized institutions. Clearly, we're at a moment when things could get worse. A timely dose of confidence — never long absent in our nation's history — is overdue. If this nation is anything, it's resilient. That starts with friendship. Who among us does not know someone who can't find a job? Give them a call.
Jim Toedtman is editor and vice president of AARP Bulletin.