BUSINESS

Surreal Unemployment At 55 [UPDATE]

Story updated below.

For Steve Dittmann, 55, unemployment has been surreal:

"It's like there's two worlds out there: People who are still working, who are still living the same lives they always had, and I feel like I'm on the other side of a Plexiglass wall looking in," said Dittmann, who lives in Kansas. "I know I'm not unique. It's like you can't get back into that world. It's very strange."

Dittmann wrote the Huffington Post to say he'd lost his job when the business he and his wife owned, which sold "high-end plantation shutters," shut down last fall. For 30 years, Dittmann said, he'd lived an upper middle class lifestyle. He worked in advertising before buying the business in 2007, right before "the economy went to Hell" and the business "dropped off the face of the earth."

Now, Dittmann said, he and his wife, Stephanie, are coasting on dwindling savings and Stephanie's earnings from a part-time accounting job. They said they hadn't made a mortgage payment since February. If they lose the house to foreclosure, they might move in with Stephanie's parents, who they said have offered to take them in.

It's been impossible to land a job. "I probably responded to 200 or 300 ads and I've had one call back."

Then Dittmann said something that the HuffPost has heard from a lot of people:

"I think part of it is my age," he said. "I can't prove that but I think that's probably true. I was a business owner before. If you can hire someone in their 40s versus someone in their 50s, the person in their 40s is going to stay with you longer, and the person in their 50s is going to be more expensive because of health insurance. Everybody I've talked to that's in their 50s, looking for a job, they're getting nowhere."

It's true: Workers 45 and older comprise a disproportionate share of the long-term unemployed. But Dittmann is not feeling sorry for himself.

"In the past few months I've learned to appreciate how lucky I've been up to this point in my life, having lived an upper middle class professional lifestyle for the past 30 years," he wrote in an email. "I'm sorry to say I took it all for granted. I didn't over-extend myself, no mini-mansions, no expensive vacations, none of that... but we've always lived comfortably, without financial concerns. And even today, I'm still better off than probably 85 percent of the people on this planet, so everything is truly relative.

"Still, I can't believe I'm where I'm at today... I'm truly numb. I'm not even mad about my situation, because I'm not sure who or what to be mad at. Keeping my sanity is a priority, and I'm just thankful that we have no children to worry about."

UPDATE 6/15/2011: Dittman, now 57, told HuffPost that even after getting an MBA, he still can't find work. It's been more than three years.

"So far it’s the same old thing. I know it’s because of my age," he said. "I've had maybe two real face-to-face interviews in the whole two years [since speaking to HuffPost in 2009]."

Dittman said he and his wife are now renting a house in Lawrence, Kan.