See also: African Americans, Latinos have less savings.
Nearly 3.3 million older Americans were unemployed in March, and almost a fourth of them had become “discouraged workers” — meaning they hadn’t looked for work for at least a month because they believed no work was available for people like them.
But let’s be honest: Can you really afford to stop hunting for a job? Between vanishing pensions, diminished retirement savings and longer life expectancies, giving up work really isn’t an option for most of us when we calculate our retirement savings.
So how do you keep from getting discouraged during a job search that may last six months, a year or more? Kelly Clark, who directs AARP’s New Hampshire state office, tackled that question by interviewing 16 long-term unemployed boomers who remained upbeat despite their job search woes.
Clark developed six pieces of advice from these boomers’ stories.
- Use your time productively. It’s important to establish — and maintain — a daily schedule that includes both job search and non-search activities. Besides your job search, you could take on a household project, and exercise or do other things that nurture you. Elena, a woman who has been unemployed for 30 months, has one hard and fast rule: She never watches TV during the day. Ever. “I’m always busy. … Even when I don’t have tasks, I make tasks. … I stay engaged one way or another.”
- Think creatively about generating income. For instance, you might reduce your household expenses by getting a roommate. Also, take a look at part-time job opportunities to pursue while the full-time job search continues.
- Engage your support network. Keep up with friends, but also meet lots of new people. And if your social group is breeding negativity, find a new one. One woman in Clark’s study group grew tired of networking with other unemployed people who were becoming discouraged — so she started her own network with people who were running businesses and gainfully employed.
- Stay positive. Your mental outlook has a lot to do with your well-being. Keeping a positive self-image and sense of optimism, and being honest with yourself about your weaknesses and strengths — and reappraising accordingly — will help you negotiate your inner struggles.
- Take control of the situation. Take advantage of free employment counseling and enroll in an education or training program, like the majority of Clark’s participants did.
- Focus on giving. Try volunteering — Clark’s participants found that getting a heartfelt thank-you from a student they mentored or a nursing home resident they had befriended helped protect them from the repetitive rejection they were getting during their job hunts.
Clark, who conducted the research for her yet-to-be-released doctoral dissertation, reports that some of her boomers’ stories were as beautiful as they were ingenious.
Anna, who was laid off shortly after being diagnosed with Lyme disease, had decided to shift from referring to herself as an “unemployed” person to talking about herself as “an artist looking for a job to support her art work.” To generate a little rental income, Anna’s 27-year-old son moved into the one-bedroom condo she shares with her husband. To give them all a bit of privacy, her son partitioned the room with a large canvas — a canvas on which she’s painting scenes from her personal journey.
“If you have a passion — something you love to do — if you’re unemployed, you should be doing it, taking advantage of that time,” Anna said. “You will be happier and more content as a person and therefore able to think straighter — and better — to solve the problems.”
On May 24, AARP will host a free live webinar about how to use social media to jump-start your second career. You can also download a previous webinar about standing out in a crowded job market.
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Jean C. Setzfand is vice president of financial security at AARP.