Being unemployed not only hurts financially — Creek has an $11,000-plus student loan — it leaves emotional scars, too. "The only people I talk to during the day are my wife, my dogs and service people," he says. "It's very isolating, very lonely."
His wife, Leslie, a financial analyst, is a constant comfort. "She tells me I'm smart, that I have a lot to offer," he says.
Creek is considering returning to school this fall to get a master's degree in accounting.
"Sometimes you feel like playing the victim card," he says, "but you really don't want to. It tells the employer you're not very confident. I tell myself good things are to come ... but it's hard to remain hopeful."
Jean Coyle knows it's ironic that long ago, she taught college classes about retirement planning.
As a tenured professor at universities in Illinois and New Mexico, she lectured on gerontology, age discrimination and women's issues. When she was 52, she made a life-changing move, entering the seminary and leaving with two masters' degrees. In 2002, she was ordained as a Presbyterian minister.
As an associate pastor at a Presbyterian church in Washington, D.C., Coyle did crisis work, visiting homes and hospitals, counseling and preaching, conducting funerals. She expected a long career but in 2007, she lost her job in a church budget cut.
At 62, Coyle — who holds five degrees — thought she had much to offer. She applied to hundreds of churches and organizations around the country.
"I don't know if I was really naive or not, idealistic or not," she says. "I just believed I was supposed to be doing this and something would happen. There would be an opportunity."
She hoped her past dealing with the sick and dying would prove especially valuable. "I think you might find a 26-year-old seminary graduate with that experience but not often," she says. "Churches say, 'We want someone who's going to be there 20 years.'"
Coyle found a temporary staff job with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) but after three years of looking for a pastoral position, she reluctantly retired in 2010.
"I'm literally sitting in the midst of job search files that I'm finally throwing away," she says, from her home in Washington's Virginia suburbs. "I know I'm never going to be interviewed again. This is a major thing for me. It's hard to say. I'm a type-A person. I love working. I want to work until I drop and collapse at my desk. That wasn't meant to be. It's very painful, very difficult. ... The positive part is to be able to say I'm retired rather than I'm unemployed. But people often turn away and say, 'Oh you're retired.' You feel discarded. You feel invisible."
Coyle stays busy by filling in for pastors when they're on vacation or ill and participates in 13 volunteer activities — everything from pet therapy to neighborhood watch to usher at a college theater.
"I always used to tell my gerontology students," she says, "that the saddest thing in the world is to have the answers and no one is asking you the questions anymore."
Ted Casper figured the path to a paycheck would pass through the classroom.
When he was laid off at a semitrailer plant in southern Wisconsin in spring 2009, he initially thought he'd rebound quickly. He was a skilled tool-and-die maker and had never been unemployed for more than a few days.
"I thought I'd spend a week filling out applications," Casper says, "and I'd spend my next week deciding which of the three or four jobs I would take."
He soon discovered he had misjudged. "It was a real eye-opening experience," he says. "I started looking for work and no one was looking back."
It wasn't just that he had no prospects. His wife, Gail, who has diabetes and Addison's disease, a hormonal disorder, had already lost her job at an auto dealership. And they were in the final stages of foreclosure, no longer able to make their $900 monthly mortgage payments. Their annual income had plummeted from $90,000-$100,000 to about $23,000 — mostly his unemployment checks.