Brian Blaschke thought he had positioned himself well to survive the economic downturn. A construction industry veteran, he switched careers in 2007 into construction defect investigation for an insurance company. Fourteen months later, he was laid off anyway.
He hasn't brought home a full-time salary or benefits since November 2008.
"I've picked up bits and pieces of work," said Blaschke, 54, who lives in West Sacramento. "I had a six-month contract with a company. But mostly, I've done handyman services. I put a flier out, and I work a day here and a day there. I make ends meet."
For baby boomers, especially those in their 50s who are too young to qualify for Social Security benefits, today's tough economic reality is at odds with their long-held job expectations. They're supposed to be in the prime of their careers, their peak earning years.
Instead, they're fighting simply to stay employed.
"People are looking for job security, but it's a different game now," said Sacramento workplace expert Carleen MacKay. "And they're scared to death.
"You can't hope for the last train back to the good times."
Urban Institute research shows that the unemployment rate for both men and women in their 50s ticked up last year, with older men lacking college degrees being hardest hit.
People 55 and older who have been laid off take longer than younger people to find new work – 52 weeks, as opposed 35, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – and many find they have to cobble together two or three jobs to make a decent income.
What's worse, the recession and the nation's shifting demographics bring a harsh mixed message for baby boomers at midlife: They can't find work today, but they won't be able to retire tomorrow.
There are simply too few jobs today and too many younger workers willing to work for less money, making the job search a nightmare for baby boomers who have endured layoffs.
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