A few years ago, Kevin Cronan had it all.
At 38, he was bankrolling $100,000/year (plus a $50K bonus) as a currency strategist for a major Boston investment firm and was this close to dropping $35,000 to rub elbows at an ultra-exclusive country club.
But with a college diploma, 22 months of severance to rely on and 15 years worth of experience under his belt, he figured he had nothing to worry about. Right?
"I thought, 'I can't believe I'm not gonna find a job before this money runs out','" Cronan told Business Insider. "I started traveling a lot afterward."
But time ticked on, his funds dwindled and the job market showed no signs of improvement.
There were a couple of close calls – he had a promising interview with one firm and found out they laid off a bunch of staff shortly after – but he kept running into the same wall.
"When they do hire, companies are going after people with two years of experience or freshly minted MBA's," Cronan said. "And they're paying them nothing and a lot of people who are mid-career like me, there really is very little out there."
Stumbling down the social ladder
Cronan was used to blowing $200 on swanky steak dinners each week, but the further he sank into unemployment, the more he turned down invites.
"It's hard to maintain contacts because a lot of the social contacts were over meals, cocktails, playing squash and golf," he said. "Money is always a factor."
His future on hold
It would have been nice to job hunt with an MBA on his resume, but Cronan was halfway through his studies at Suffolk University when he was laid off. His former employer had been fronting the bill.
And when his savings were all but gone, he made the difficult decision to dip into his 401(k) – a step that's become all too common for America's long-term unemployed.
"I didn't have a choice," he said. "Yes, it's for retirement but it's not gonna do any good if I don't have a place to live and my car gets repossessed."
"I didn't want anyone to see me."
He came across an online pawn site called Pawntique, where he took out a loan against a multi-thousand-dollar Corum watch. Going the online route was quick and efficient, but the real perk was anonymity:
"I didn't want anyone to see me," he said.
From unemployed to under-employed
The pay isn't anything to write home about ($9.70/hr) but he was more interested in their benefit package (medical, dental, vision) than anything else.
There's a reason depression is so prevalent among the unemployed. Beyond the financial strain, there's also the crushing isolation that comes with leaving the workforce.
To cope, Cronan allows himself one luxury – a $189 squash membership.
"It's my largest expense but I refuse to give it up," he said."It gets me out of what could be viewed as an isolated, lonely slump of living in this little suburban town."
Fear for the future
It's not just the meager paycheck that troubles underemployed workers like Cronan. There's that nagging fear that while he's foaming lattes and shaking cocktails, he'll miss his shot at getting back in the game.
"There's a concern I have that there's this negative perception (by employers) of someone who's out of the workforce for so long," he said.
All he can do for now is keep his mind fresh in any way possible. He keeps tabs on the market through Bloomberg and talks shop with his sister, who's a stock trader.
"I try to keep myself informed but it's not always the same," he said. "You can't quantify all that (on a resume)... but at least it's something."
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