Have experience? Still no guarantee

Out of work for a while, Debbie Wilson of Grand Junction says she spends four hours a day on her home computer searching for jobs on such websites as the Colorado Workforce Center. A former office manager in a doctor’s clinic, Wilson, 59, wonders if she’s being passed over for younger workers.

Some days, Debbie Wilson still can’t believe she’s in this predicament.

After being laid off in early 2008 from her job of a dozen years as office manager for a local doctor’s clinic, she had no reason to believe she wouldn’t quickly find work again.

With a career in mostly management positions, Wilson had loads of experience and the desire to work.

“I’m loyal, dedicated and capable,” Wilson, an expressive brunette with fluffy shoulder-length hair and carefully applied makeup, said recently from her north Grand Junction home.

But at 59, Wilson wonders whether employers pass her over for younger workers. She said she has scored numerous interviews for a wide range of jobs, but something always comes up. Funding gets pulled from a job that was advertised, or sometimes it appears employers are only going through the motions of interviewing even though they already know who they want to hire.

When Wilson had been in management positions tasked with hiring, she, too, may have hired a younger person over a more mature person, such as herself.

“They can’t ask, but when you walk in the door they know how old you are,” she said. “You never know what the internal workings are. I’m a very positive person, but it takes all the energy I have to be positive.”

Wilson was earning $19.25 an hour at the doctor’s office. Leaving her post was beneficial for her and her employer because after working there for years, it was “time to move on,” she said. Wilson said she has come to terms with knowing she may never again earn wages in the $20-an-hour range, but she’s in search of a living wage, or something at $10 to $15 an hour.

Wilson rises every morning and surveys job postings for about four hours a day on websites such as Colorado Workforce’s http://www.connecting colorado.com.

On a recent weekday, there were 108 postings, and some of the wages looked alluring, in the range of $14–16 an hour. But after typing in her qualifications, which include administrative and management experience, nothing showed. The bulk of the jobs are in construction and oil field work, but the office work that usually goes along with those jobs doesn’t seem to be returning.

“I think those office jobs are being outsourced,” she said.

Wilson is in the third tier of her unemployment benefits, receiving $141 per week. Her benefits should extend to a fourth and final tier, but she’s not sure how much longer she has left on the rolls.

She receives food stamps and has no problem volunteering her time at some organizations to fulfill conditions of those benefits. The mortgage on her home of five years is in forbearance, and if she can’t land a job by December, it will go into foreclosure. She can live without the home, she said, but she would like to keep it to maintain a sense of stability for her 16-year-old granddaughter. Wilson legally adopted her granddaughter when the girl was a child.

Losing her home would mark the fourth recent foreclosure in Wilson’s neighborhood, which is characterized by large yards and decent-sized homes. Wilson recalled the pain of seeing her neighbors, a young family, having to move out when their home was foreclosed. It was the family’s first home, but months after a man at the home lost his job, the family lost its home.

“I’m not the only one,” Wilson said, about her situation. “There are so many of us out there struggling.”

In yet another cruel twist to the unemployment dilemma, people who have been unemployed for long stretches have a harder time finding work again, according to studies. Additionally, some businesses overtly claim they will not accept applications from anyone without a job.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the longer someone is unemployed, the less likely it becomes that they will find work.

In 2007, nearly half of all jobless people were unemployed for only about five weeks. Less than 3 percent of jobless people in 2007 still couldn’t find work after 52 weeks. Two years later, in 2010, the jobless landscape made a remarkable shift. Only 34 percent of the jobless people found work within five weeks, and 11 percent of jobless people couldn’t find work after a year.

Being unable to land a job is new territory for Wilson. Before becoming jobless, the Nucla native had been working since she was 16. She said she worked for years in Las Vegas, turning around restaurants that had been losing money. She returned to the Grand Valley to work another eight years in the office of a local construction company. Her life experience dwarfs formal college education.

“I’m a jack of all trades with bits of college,” she said.

Going back to college to pick up new skills seems like a gamble, and it’s not an option she thinks she can afford.

While many of her friends have started to retire, Wilson has spent her savings trying to stay afloat.

Lately, she said, she sold some antique jewelry to afford gas money to visit her granddaughter where she attends boarding school in Utah on scholarship. Wilson struggles to come up with gas money to drive to interviews.

Aside from accompanying her father on a Western Slope Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., it has been years since she left Grand Junction to take any kind of vacation. Not even to go to Fruita.

“It’s the strangest place I’ve ever been,” Wilson said, near tears. “I have this desk calendar that says, ‘When you have hope, you can do anything.’ I used to believe that, but I have hope every single day ...”


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