My Unemployed Life: 58 and Searching

unemploymentMy name is Anthony (or Tony, as they call me) and I am a 58-year-old photo consultant and photographer with over 23 years of experience in the field. I live in Northwest Florida, a region with one of the highest unemployment rates, hovering around 10.8 percent.

For the past 23 years, I've held two jobs – a full-time job as a photo consultant with a major photo retailer and also as a freelance photographer shooting people and travel-related subjects.

Even a move didn't guarantee a job

In 2006, I relocated to Stamford, Conn., hoping to gain more work as a freelance photographer and still keep my full-time position with my company. After years of trying to take my career to a higher level, everything started to fall into place. However, in the last part of 2008, my income from both jobs fell significantly – rent was going up and my 76-year-old mother, who rented with me, could no longer work. It was decision time: Either ride it out or head back to Florida where the cost of living was lower and I had family. I decided to move back with my mother, knowing I was leaving behind a great career in photography, but still grateful to have my full-time position with my company.

Upon returning to Florida in fall 2008, I received word that our stores would be closing due to the company filing for bankruptcy. I remember feeling an intense dread when I received the news that May 15, 2009, would be my last day with a company that had been part of my life for over 20 years. As of today, I've been unemployed for 15 months -- something I never expected.

Every morning, like clockwork, I get up at 7AM as if I'm going to work. I have my breakfast and a cup of coffee, shave and shower, and then get dressed. Then it's time to head to the computer and start my job search, following leads and placing my resume with potential employers. I average four to six hours on the computer, and have placed over 215 resumes with employers since I was laid off. I attend job fairs and network with others in my profession through Facebook and LinkedIn. I also spend time writing travel-related articles on blogs and contributing through other websites. I've had a few interviews so far this year, but no job offers have been extended. The positive side to all of this is that the myriad of responses from friends and even strangers has been encouraging and keeps me positive while I continue to look for work.

On a side note, being unemployed has its own setbacks that cut into your daily routine. I now share utilities with my mother, switched to a lower-fee cellular provider with just the basics, and walk more often. I still visit my local neighborhood cafe for a cup of coffee with my friends, because it helps keep my sanity. I began to exercise more and take a daily walk by the water, which seems to help calm my nerves.

A nerve-racking time

Although I receive unemployment benefits, I'm constantly under stress knowing that eventually they will run out. It's been very frustrating searching for work in this job climate because I spend an average of 30 minutes on each online job application, knowing that in all likelihood I will not be contacted for an interview. Most applications ask for a certain age category, and those are typically the ones that never respond back. Furthermore, if the company you are applying to does not see dates associated with past employers and your education, they will reject the application. My biggest fear is that my age is the main factor for not having found a new job.

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the unemployment rate between teens and older workers is fairly even, it does not take into consideration that most retail jobs are held by teens because of lower wages.

Just recently, I interviewed with a popular cellular phone company for a retail management position in the wireless sector. The interview went exceptionally well; I had the right qualifications – 10 years in management and over 20 years in the technology profession. I was told that I would receive a reply within 10 days. Ten days went by without a phone call. I decided to follow up on the job interview, and to my surprise was told that "I was not qualified enough for that position."

Through this life-changing ordeal, I have decided to continue my photography and writing while finishing my certification in Microsoft. However, I will continue to look for work in the private sector for another option.

If I had known what the future held 10 years ago, I would have gone back to school to pursue a different profession. I never realized that it would be this difficult to find another job. The most important aspect that I have learned from this experience is to never take any job for granted – it could be gone in the blink of an eye.

Your Turn: Have a story about surviving unemployment to share? Submit it to AOL Jobs. You just might be the next person featured!

Read Full Story