Phillip Stone wants a job. He is not alone. The unemployment rate is 12.5 percent in Pasco County and closing in on 14 percent in Hernando.
Stone is not a home builder or tradesman, but his personal financial outlook is tied closely to residential growth. Stone is in retail sales. Or was. For the past 11 years, he had been a part of the service industry that follows construction of residential rooftops. He was pink-slipped in February from Neiman Marcus at International Plaza in Tampa.
He didn't envision a nine-month (and counting) layoff. Selling is what he does. He moved men's furnishings at various retailers since 2002 and before that he sold lamps, wall hangings, picture frames and gifts at JCPenney in Countryside Mall, Clearwater.
Now, he is selling himself. He works the telephones to network with old contacts and said he has applied in person at retailers in seven malls from Clearwater to Brandon and Port Richey to Wiregrass Ranch in Wesley Chapel. No luck.
His resume is impressive. He comes across as sincere, articulate and intelligent. Don't forget the work ethic. He entered the working world after a year at Brown University and never looked back. That was more than 55 years ago.
Phillip Stone is 76. It makes him, according to a recent New York Times report, part of a senior work force that, despite having a jobless rate more favorable than the general population, still faces its highest levels of unemployment since the Great Depression.
"I love to sell," said Stone. "Anyone who suggests I'm too old for a job is making a serious mistake."
The graying of America's work force is well documented. It is particularly true in Florida, where, in the past, senior citizens frequently returned to the work force to combat boredom and to earn extra spending money. But, in light of poor returns on investments; shrinking real estate values; higher food, energy and medical costs; and greater levels of debt; some seniors no longer consider themselves retired.
Seniors, in fact, are expected to help fill looming insufficiencies in the labor supply as birth rates decline and baby boomers retire. It is even a strategy touted for the city of Brooksville by Dennis Wilfong, its volunteer economic development specialist. Wilfong has said the seasonal retirees are a valuable work force to use to try to lure new commerce to the city.
Phillip Stone isn't interested in seasonal work and never did retire. His career in sales and marketing began in Massachusetts in the family business, Independent Nail, and after the family sold it in 1959, he started Philstone Nail Corp. to market threaded nails and fasteners to the likes of Ace and True Value. He formed a second company, an importer and exporter for hardware, housewares and building materials. Later jobs included national sales and marketing manager positions for corporations in Dallas, Seattle and near Chicago. He landed in Florida in 1994 to help grow the business of Clearwater True Value but moved to retailing four years later.
It means he started working full-time in retailing around the age some people ponder retirement. Stone, however, needs the paycheck. There is the mortgage payment overdue on his modest condominium in Beacon Square in Holiday and the prospect of foreclosure. Other creditors are calling. He has no pension and now lives on Social Security and unemployment insurance.
He's seen bad times before, including a Chapter 13 personal bankruptcy in the late 1990s. Life even started out tough, he said. The day his parents brought him home from the hospital as a newborn in 1933 coincided with President Franklin Roosevelt's decision to close the banks.
So, he perseveres and hopes ageism isn't keeping him unemployed. Some younger workers, he said, are more concerned about their breaks, paychecks and days off than serving customers.
Stone, after all, is the kind of guy who closed deals at JCPenney by spending his days off delivering newly purchased floor lamps to customers who lacked reliable transportation. No charge to the customer and no cost to his employer. He didn't want compensation. He just wanted to build customer loyalty for the store.
Deliveries don't look to be a part of his future. Sales jobs are his life.
"At this point," he said, "I'd be happy to take a job cleaning toilets."