Joseph Gonzales moved to North Carolina in October 2008 after the mortgage lending company where he worked in Orlando closed.
Soon after his move, he began looking for work in Charlotte because of its reputation as a banking hub. But he has found himself in an unexpected position -- unemployed, and competing with people half his age for jobs. Gonzales was one of the nearly two million workers older than 55 who were unemployed in June.
It has been a financial burden, a mental struggle and sometimes even a physical fight for the 61-year-old.
"Certainly (unemployment) affects all aspects of your life," Gonzales said. "It affects your vision of yourself, it affects your outlook on life, it affects your motivation at times. You start questioning 'Had I done this, had I done that.'"
Though the national unemployment rate has declined since its peak in October 2009, one group has remained particularly vulnerable -- America's older generation of workers.
The unemployment rate for people older than 55 has nearly doubled since the recession began in December 2007. Though it remains below the national average, at 6.2 percent in June, the rate has increased faster than for any other age group since the start of the recession, according to a June AARP study.
These statistics can hit even harder in North Carolina, where the unemployment rate remains well above the national average, at 9.6 percent in July. Moreover, 17.6 percent of the N.C. population reports being underemployed -- a term that refers to people who are working in a job for which they are overqualified, or who are working fewer hours than they would like.
In previous hiring slumps, older workers who lost their jobs might have elected to retire rather than spend their days scouring online job sites and sending out dozens of resumes. But with lofty mortgages, bank loans and medical bills on their plates, many are left with no choice but to halt retirement plans and return to the ranks of the job seekers -- a place many haven't been in decades.
'Don't want to retire'
After his layoff, Gonzales first settled in Asheville because of its Charles George VA Medical Center. Gonzales is a Marine and Army veteran.
But four years and a move to Charlotte later, Gonzales is still out of work -- despite his 15 years of experience in mortgage lending. And he's worried his age is to blame.
"The last four years have been major in that I'd never felt that I was getting to the point of becoming old," he said. "It was like a 2-by-4 that hit me across the back of the head. I'm interviewing with people half my age."
A survey released in July by AARP found that age discrimination is a growing problem among older workers .The report found that 77 percent of workers over 50 think age discrimination would be an obstacle if they were job hunting. Thirty-four percent said they've experienced age discrimination firsthand.
After arriving in Asheville, Gonzales was unemployed for almost two years, and he even considered moving back to Florida to be near his family and former life. But in June 2010, he was hired by Wells Fargo as a phone banker.
A year later, he was let go and has been unemployed ever since. Gonzales has owned businesses, worked for mortgage brokers, insurance companies, and loss mitigation businesses throughout his career.
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