Then, suddenly, it was gone," says Susan Birie, who runs the government's Delaware Area Career Center in Delaware, Ohio.
'What's wrong with me?'
Jackson, the airline pilot, has a lovely house and barn in Delaware, an affluent Columbus suburb. Active in church, Jackson's family has taken troubled youths into their home.
But after nearly two years without work, Jackson is dispirited. He made the last house payment he could afford in June. He has depleted his savings and 401(k) retirement account and sold expensive machining equipment that he used for a hobby and extra income.
He has no health insurance. His wife is not getting medicine she needs. An adopted child has government-provided insurance.
Jackson has been turned down for jobs that he was well qualified for, such as training pilots. One job went to a pilot who used to work for him.
"I keep asking myself, 'What's wrong with me?' I used to be successful. I used to be confident," Jackson says.
The unemployed older men believe their age and experience works against them, not for them.
"Gray hair is the worst thing you can have when applying for a job," says John Green, 64, a former technology manager at banks and other corporations.
The men say experience can make them less marketable because employers think they want higher pay. There's some truth to that.
Montgomery made $25.80 an hour maintaining machines at an insulation factory in Newark, Ohio. He's been shocked at the low wages — $10 an hour or so — for some jobs available now.
"I can't pay my bills on those wages," he says. "The pay is hardly better than my unemployment check."
Low wages are not just a financial blow, says Birie, the employment counselor. It's a blow to the men's self-esteem.
"It's very difficult to be the primary breadwinner, then to be offered — despite all your skills and talent — a job that pays $10 an hour," she says.
The demands of new jobs can be unsettling for older workers, too. There are truck-driving jobs in Ohio, Birie says. But older men often find the lifestyle — being away from home for days at a time — to be grueling, lonely and hard on their established family life.
Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond says the nation's retraining programs were caught unprepared for the onslaught of unemployed older men. The training programs had been aimed mostly at women, a legacy of welfare reform.
"This is a masculine recession. We need to adjust," he says. Two-thirds of those seeking job training today are men — the reverse of two years ago, Thurmond says.
Health care hardship
The need for health insurance is the financial problem that dominates the life of unemployed, older men.
Four of the six men interviewed for this story reported that they or a family member weren't getting needed medical care because they simply could not afford it.
John Beckley, 54, a design draftsman laid off in January, has cut back on pills to save $150 a month. He has diabetes and high blood pressure.
"The medication is killing me moneywise," he says. When he cuts back his NovoLog insulin, "I feel a little worse, but I don't have a choice." He's still spending $700 a month on medicine.
The economic stimulus bill has been a savior for most of the unemployed men. The stimulus law contains a little-noticed provision that has the government pay up to 65% of the cost of continuing on a former employer's health insurance plan.