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As unemployment numbers creep up each week, some newly unemployed boomers who can financially swing it are reluctantly retiring. Oscar Peres, 58, never missed a day of work in his 28 years as a cleaner in the north tower of the Trade Center. It was the first and only job he has had since he came to the States from Honduras. Because his union is adding five years of service to its members over age 55, Peres feels retiring is his best, though not first, choice. "I feel very bad because I worked 28 years in the same place and I lost a lot of friends."
In an effort to assist the recently unemployed in their job searches, the City of New York sponsored two job fairs at Madison Square Garden. With employers ranging from Kentucky Fried Chicken to the Metropolitan Opera, organizers boasted 3,000 available jobs. One man fortunate enough to make it inside the pavilion (thousands were turned away) was Michael Wroblewski, 55, of Queens, N.Y., who recently became a grandfather. Wroblewski's employment hardships began in February 2000 when the economy started tanking, and have been constant ever since. First the pilot-training company where he had worked in accounting for 16 years laid him off. He was devastated. "I had acquired over 80 sick days. I was very loyal, and I loved my job."
Experts tell 50-plus workers to emphasize their reliability and experience. The downside: they may not be able to get the same salary and perks that their seniority once commanded. Wroblewski says he went through a cycle common to career people who abruptly find themselves out of work. "First there's denial, then the realization that it did happen, and finally depression." He limited his blue period to two weeks and then launched himself anew. Five months ago, he was hired in a temp-to-perm capacity at an insurance company. Right away, he found his rhythm. But two months ago, he was given the news that the entire division was being laid off. "I had the feeling of 'Why me? Why do I have to go through this again?'" At the Twin Towers Job Expo, Wroblewski, a man who genuinely radiates character, handed out resumes, shook hands and scored some interviews. Says Wroblewski: "They say my age is a disadvantage, and I can only hope that it's not."
Another hopeful seeker was Paul Piccolo, 51, a print production manager. Piccolo was told by a graphics employment agency that work was so scarce, members of the staff weren't sure whether the agency could stay afloat. "I've been on interviews where I was offered junior-level pay," says Piccolo, who is fully aware that he may be overlooked for people half his age who are content to live on ramen and brown rice. "I could lose everything I own if something doesn't happen."