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Mark S. Alfson Headshot

Unemployed Since 2004

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I didn't finish college the first time around. Perhaps it was a lack of vision. Perhaps it was a lack of a dream. I don't know. Regardless, I almost completed my first two years at a local junior college before abandoning my education for the banality of full-time employment.

After a decade-long career in the transportation industry left me feeling listless and dissatisfied, I seriously contemplated a return to college. Living in Chicago at the time, I ventured to the University of Illinois-Chicago and enrolled without much of a plan, yet with the intent to do something. Anything. But as often happens, my family and I relocated to Florida for my wife's new job before I had a chance to select my first class, much less a major.

However, this relocation did not impede my plans. In fact, it actually helped move it along as I found little employment opportunities that matched my skill-set and interests. I entered the University of Central Florida in Orlando around the age of 37 and graduated in December 2004 with a degree in accounting and with a 3.45 cumulative GPA.

During my time there, I managed to work part-time for a local municipality in their accounting department. I frequently thought how lucky I was to be gathering knowledge and skills in a new field while attending UCF. I felt proud and accomplished as I finished UCF at the end of 2004 and my family and I relocated back to Chicago.

However, Chicago at the beginning of 2005 was a taste of things to come. A bad taste. During the three months I actively pursued gainful employment I managed only two interviews and one temporary job placement (which I had to turn down due to its excessive distance from home). Still, this was nothing compared to what I was in store for, when my family unexpected moved to the Dayton, Ohio area at the end of the summer in 2005. My wife had been offered a great job with a new firm and after much discussion, we elected to leave Chicago.

I still maintained high hopes for finding gainful employment quickly even though Chicago had been less than generous. Unfortunately, my optimism was not well-placed as Dayton -- where we moved -- and Ohio at large were suffering greatly from a downturn in the economy. The American automobile industry shared close ties with Ohio and the lackluster performance of the Big Three had taken a toll.

With my freshly printed degree and five years of experience in governmental accounting, I found obtaining even an interview next to impossible. Between August 2005 and September 2007 I managed four interviews and two temporary staffing gigs. It was, to be frank, painful.

And matters have only gotten worse since 2007. I didn't think the recession could really hurt us any more, but it did. Jobs have dried up. I recently attended a job fair for a law firm opening an operations center. They are looking to fill 187 jobs, but I easily saw 300-plus during the one hour I was in attendance. That was during just one hour of at least twelve total hours the job fair ran over the weekend.

Oddly enough, it isn't the daily feelings of hopelessness and depression that really get me down. Instead, it is a constant sense of fear of the future, of not contributing to social security, of not having an IRA, of not contributing to an employer's 401(k). At 45, I have no idea what to do or where to turn. More education seems like a joke. I'm overqualified for the local retail stores. And there are few if any available jobs for my given career path. And while I know I'm not alone, that fact offers zero solace.

I can imagine how difficult it must be for those in their early 20s to be going through the same problems, but at least they still have a long future ahead of themselves; a future that may turn around and offer them a secure place in the world. At my age, I'm not only going to encounter the problems associated with a lack of jobs in the market, but also will be forced to deal with inevitable discrimination that comes with hiring older folks.