April 15, 2021

Our Generation: Reinvented in His 60s, After 26 Jobless Months

From 2001 to 2008 he was vice president of a student loan company making about $150,000 a year and also taught a few business courses at the University of Maryland. He had an M.B.A., had been previously employed by the Federal Reserve and G.A.O.; and executives in his field said he was well regarded and quite good at what he did.

The loan company gave him a $188,000 severance package, so he felt he would be fine financially. “I’d thought I’d find another job quickly and actually wind up ahead,” he said then.

Not hardly. By the time I wrote about him, he’d sent out 600 résumés and had just three interviews — two by phone. It was not until March 2010, 26 months after being let go, that he finally got a job (at $75,000 a year, half his former salary) working for Merrill Lynch as a financial adviser. “I did well by focusing on people in my position who needed to preserve what was left of their savings,” he said in an interview last week. “I’d been in their shoes.”

What Mr. Blattman went through during the economic collapse was more extreme than the typical boomer who lost a job, but not that much more.

The unemployment rate is lower for people in their 50s and 60s than younger workers, but once they lose a job it takes them a lot longer to find one. And even with the improvement in the economy, there has been little change since the worst of the recession.

The average unemployed 55- to 64-year-old who got a job last month had been out of work for more than 11 months, versus 6 months for the average 20- to 24-year-old.

In June of 2007, when the economy was still humming along, the gap was smaller: 5 months of job searching for the 55 to 64 year olds and 3 months for the 20-24-year-olds.

At the worst of the economic downturn, it took an average of 13 months for a 55- to 64-year-old to find work, versus 7 months for a 20- to 24-year-old and 9 months for those 25 to 34. “Basically, the older you are, the longer it takes,” said Steven Hipple, a Bureau of Labor Statistics economist who provided the data.

After I wrote about Mr. Blattman, he was featured on an NBC special about boomers facing hard times, which was anchored by Tom Brokaw. About a month and a half later, he got the job offer from Merrill Lynch.

He stayed there about a year, and then had an offer for a full-time position with the University of Maryland, which has programs at military installations all over the world. He now teaches business courses at the Army base in Wiesbaden, Germany. “It’s my dream job,” he said. “Since I was a little kid I wanted to be a professor in Europe.” He won’t say how much he earns but says it’s five figures and “considerably less” than his position with the student loan company paid.

When the economy was healthy, he hadn’t been hesitant about changing jobs. But this time, he said, he was losing sleep over telling Merrill Lynch. “I’d been out of work so long, I was very, very grateful that they’d hired me.”

Mr. Blattman, who is divorced, said he has made a good group of friends in Germany and loves teaching soldiers. “They’re so motivated and so appreciative about being able to take college courses on the base.”

When I interviewed him in 2009 about life without work, he was filling his time writing two novels, one a thriller about a consumer loan officer, the other a romance between a 58-year-old unemployed man and a waitress who was a Holocaust survivor. (As they say in the novel business, write what you know.)

He told me that he gave the second book a happy ending because despite what he’d been through, he’d always been a big believer in happy endings.

Though he hasn’t been able to sell the novels, and his savings will never be what they were, he considers himself lucky. “I’m having a happy ending as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “I feel useful again.”

Previous Our Generation columns can be found here.

Booming: Living Through the Middle Ages offers news and commentary about baby boomers, anchored by Michael Winerip. Sign up for our weekly newsletter here. You may also follow Booming via RSS here or visit nytimes.com/booming. Our e-mail is booming@nytimes.com.

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