By Tina Vasquez (Los Angeles)
Many have been hit hard by the recession, but according to the United States Department of Labor, perhaps no one more so than women of the baby-boom generation. According to the Department of Labor, the number of women ages 45 to 64 who are long-term unemployed (out of work for more than six months) has more than doubled in the past year and at 900,000, that number is steadily growing.
Hundreds of thousands of working women have been put in an impossible situation: They want to continue working, yet they can’t find jobs in their field or jobs that pay well enough or jobs that they aren’t overqualified for, etc. And for many, retirement is not an option. Aside from economic uncertainties and investments, opting out of work while still having earning potential seems unwise during such tumultuous economic times. As a result, women who earned large salaries in high-ranking positions in the corporate world are having to adjust their plans and expectations in order to survive in today’s youth-orientated culture, all while working longer hours and for much lower pay.
Career coach Carole Hyatt is quick to point out that these types of transitions are difficult to adjust to at any time, but especially late in life. “Psychologically, some women are OK, but some are in very bad shape,” Hyatt said. “Many never married or squirreled away any money. They are feeling very unrooted and it’s been particularly tough for women in the financial sector, many of whom were living at a high level.” Some women, however, are deciding to make the most of this difficult time in their lives by going back to school, learning a new trade, or pursuing their true passions. Rosemarie Ashley is one of these women.
When it Rains, it Pours
According to Ashley, here’s the long and short of it: She’s been unemployed for over two years in Metro-Detroit. Her house is worth 30 percent less than when it was first purchased in 1997, even after significant renovation. Her husband is also unemployed and they exhausted their savings years ago and currently supplement unemployment compensation with credit. “Despite the local economic depression and 14 percent reported state unemployment, my benefits expired last month,” Ashley said.
So, how did this happen? While earning her MBA at Wayne State University, Ashley worked in the mortgage division of a local bank and upon graduating, decided to stay in mortgage origination. In 2000 when the bank she was working for closed abruptly, she and her husband decided to open a net branch with a local mortgage banker who’d been courting them for two years. After initial success, Ashley and her husband became too busy with personal production, marketing, training, accounting, and management to notice that the industry was changing.
“Metro-Detroit never fully recovered from the recession caused by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and our own personal production began to slow. Housing values stagnated in 2005 and began to fall quickly. Advertising campaigns with $40 million dollar budgets for ‘option ARMs’ confused borrowers into thinking 0.99 percent was the going interest rate. Fraud was rampant and the FBI refused to investigate. The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) provided loop-holes for big business to circumvent consumer protection and real estate prices fell. I refused to participate in unethical behavior and at the end of 2007, it was clear I could not earn a living and maintain my standard of excellence.”
A New Beginning
After her company folded, for the first time in 18 years, Ashley looked for employment. But encountered difficulty along the way. “I insist on doing what I enjoy with integrity and for a fair wage, despite the apparent paradigm. The positions I’ve encountered are most often given to people through personal referral and my network consists mostly of mortgage industry-related people who are struggling; working longer and harder for a fraction of the pay. Most advertised positions are seeking entry level workers and I am well over-qualified.”
Rather than trying to start over in the same business or use her MBA in a different field, Ashley took an alternative route that many would find equally freeing and frightening: “I decided that if I’m going to work for free, I’m doing what I love,” she said. So, the Detroit native picked herself up by her bootstraps and decided to “explore ways to earn a living creating, recording, performing, and entertaining with music that transforms lives.” That’s right, at the age of 44 Ashley decided to throw caution to the wind by pursuing her lifelong love of music and creating her own record label.
The recession not only provided Ashley with an opportunity to restructure her life, but she’s also walked away from the financial services industry with a newfound outlook on life and the profession that she once spent so many years in.
“I’ve become more determined to affect a positive difference in the lives of everyday people. I research and learn more about what I’ve always intuitively known: This world rewards deception and greed. I’ve also found a growing movement of people with similar beliefs and objectives. I’ve learned internet marketing, social media networking, improved marketing communication skills, and I now collaborate with people all over the world.”
Making the Transition
According to Hyatt, the new skills Ashley’s acquired while being unemployed and pursuing her music are very relevant and necessary in the current workforce, where updating Twitter and Facebook accounts are an important marketing strategy and wearing jeans to work is an acceptable practice. Along with these changes, Hyatt also believes older women must contend with fixing their resumes to make themselves seem more approachable.
“No one will give you a $100,000 job if you’ve been earning three or four times that,” she said. “More than ever it’s important to stress qualities and accomplishments relevant to the job opening and to minimize mentions of anything that would work against you, such as making a high salary in your previous position.”
Obviously, women in their 40s and 50s have a lot to get used to upon re-entering the workforce for an encore career and some of these changes will be difficult to make. Though it’s true that pursuing a career in music so late in life won’t be ideal or even close to a realistic option for some, it’s important to remain optimistic as Ashley has, and see this new time in life as an opportunity to grow. As Hyatt said, “You want to work and you need to work, but thankfully you know yourself better now. Women who’ve been laid off or let go can now finally look around and figure out what it is they really want to do.”