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Laid-off workers: Where do they go from here? // On the job for decades, out of a job for years

An occasional series about four Tampa Bay residents coping with life after losing their jobs.

Don't talk to Robert Sabara about how low the unemployment rate is or how well the economy is doing.

It's a myth, he'll tell you, at least for people like him _ well over 50 and out of work.

"They say the economy is booming, things are great. But for a large portion of us, who are in the twilight of our careers, we don't see everything as rosy," he said.

For three years Sabara has been unemployed. He said he has tried everything to get a job, from networking to losing 20 pounds.

He has two problems _ his age and the fact that almost all his work experience is as a middle manager in the defense industry, a nearly extinct profession these days.

"Once you hit 50 or more, you can just about forget about becoming a direct hire," he said. "I have exhausted my efforts getting a job."

While age discrimination is illegal, Sabara knows it exists. He wouldn't give his age for this article. Sabara thinks his long resume, which only documents the last 20 years of his career, keeps people from calling him.

"I don't even get the interviews now, and I don't even have all my experience on there," he said. "They only see the piece of paper. If they only saw that I was a vigorous, active person who is not ready to roll over."

Sabara has looked nationally for a new job, concentrating on companies that were about ready to get contracts with the federal government. And he wasn't picky about salary: He was making between $45,000 and $50,000 in his heyday, but he hasn't turned down any jobs because the salary offer was too low. Truth is, he hasn't gotten any offers.

Sabara knows he's not alone. He has been to meetings of the Professional Placement Network and seen others like himself, former well-paid middle managers who can't find jobs.

"People who were in banking, laid off. People in advertising, laid off," he said. "I have many, many friends who are in a similar situation."

Sabara's downward spiral really began back in the late 1980s, when he was laid off from his job as an engineering administrator with Reflectone Inc. in Tampa. He was out of work for nine months before finding a job with Olin Ordnance in St. Petersburg.

That job lasted about 13 months and then he found himself laid off again when Olin didn't get a government contract renewed. It was 10 months before Sabara found another job, this time in Richland, Wash., at Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratory, another defense contractor.

Sabara left that job after a year because his wife refused to leave Florida. Sabara moved back, hoping to reconcile with his wife. It didn't work. He ended up divorced and has been jobless since.

He was forced to take early Social Security and has been surviving on that and his savings. He sold the waterfront condominium on Treasure Island that he shared with his wife and now lives in an efficiency apartment he rents month-to-month at Sun City Center. His car has 185,000 miles on it, and it's been a year and a half since he had health insurance.

Sabara can clearly see his mistakes now. He thinks he lingered too long in the volatile defense industry. He wishes he had learned other things that are required for today's jobs, such as computer skills.

But Sabara is no quitter. Since nobody wants to hire him, he has decided to go to work for himself. He recently went to real estate school and passed the state exam. Now he's trying to decide where he should go to work.

"It's somewhat of a challenge, but we have to go on with life's challenges," he said with a sad smile.

Robert Sabara

Age: 50+

Former jobs: Middle manager positions with defense contractors

Prospects: Plans to work for himself in real estate