'Am I ever going to get a job?'

Guy Salomon, 55, Information Technologist

November 09, 2008|By Lorraine Mirabella

He thought it might take one, maybe two months to land a new job.

When Guy Salomon was laid off in February from a Hewlett Packard job paying more than $70,000, he had more than two decades of experience in technical support and instruction at major computer companies. At HP in Greenbelt, he handled technical support for Veterans Affairs hospitals, often fielding emergency calls in the middle of the night. He had worked before that for Wang Laboratories and Sysorex Corp.

He was stunned to find his job gone, one of a number of positions eliminated under changes to a long-running contract with the VA. Even with 10 years, Salomon, 55, simply had less seniority than others.

He had been through a layoff once before and found a new job in six weeks. This time, his skills and experience were even stronger.

But this time is different.

Since Salomon last looked for work a decade ago, employers have been shipping many information technology jobs out of the U.S. And since mid-September's economic meltdown, tech companies have announced job cuts by the thousands. An additional 24,600 layoffs are coming at Hewlett Packard when it merges with EDS.

"With the economy in the tank, am I just beating my head against the wall?" Salomon asks from the upstairs office of his home in Baltimore County's Gwynn Oak neighborhood. "I'm at the point now where I have to figure out a different course. I may have to throw my hands up at IT and find something else to do.

"I've been doing this for 20 years, but we're reaching a break point now. I have to come up with an alternative. But what alternative is beyond me."

He has considered taking a six-week course in HVAC or, because he's a fishing enthusiast, applying to a retailer such as Bass Pro Shops. But such a compromise, settling for a much lower-paying job, would severely cut into the retirement he had anticipated.

And recently, Salomon and his wife, Carol, a retired county schools librarian, have watched the value of their retirement savings plummet along with the stock market.

"I'm thinking right now," he said, "will I ever be able to retire?"

He and his wife say they're lucky to have paid off the mortgage on the brick house on a hill where they have lived for more than two decades. They have paid off their car loans. They have no children to provide for. Carol Salomon's small pension covers medical insurance.

But otherwise they are living on unemployment insurance, and that runs out next month.

"We only spend money on the essentials now - food, utilities, medical expenses, house insurance, the things you absolutely have to buy," Carol Salomon.

She copes by busying herself with projects around the house. Most are aimed at saving money, making the home more energy-efficient to lower their utility bills.

Meanwhile, her husband spends about six hours a day at his computer, searching and applying for jobs online. He pulls out folders stuffed with printouts of applications he has mailed or sent online, nearly 200 in all. Hardly anyone ever responds. He has been called to just five interviews.

And still no job.

"We have lived frugally, so we're able to get by," Salomon . "Is it a pleasant situation? No. It's a little disconcerting to wake up every morning and wonder am I ever going to get a job?"

His wife said, "It's not so much the present that makes me nervous, but the future."

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