This is far from the saddest story you’ll hear this year, maybe this week, maybe today. It doesn’t include starving children. Nobody in it has a terminal disease. It doesn’t involve a young person dying in a far-away, hard-to-explain war.
The story came to me in a recent email. And I’m curious about how common it might be.
“Hi Ken. I hope you remember me. I’m Joey Lozano, and for nearly 14 years I was a spokesman for the Texas Education Agency, including two years as TEA’s director of public information.”
Yes, I remember Lozano. I remember him as helpful and competent, typical of many state employees with whom I’ve come in contact.
“I’m emailing you today with what I thought might be a possible topic for one of your columns,” Lozano wrote. “I know this might sound egotistical, but I’m suggesting that I be the topic of one of your future columns.”
Egotistical would be trying to get me to write about the tee ball participation trophy your kid got. Lozano is not ego driven. He’s not in a desperate situation, but from where he is he can see desperate.
“Why?” he wrote of of his reason for contacting me. “Because of the stark contrast my own personal situation provides to the claims that while the nation’s economy is still struggling, the Texas economy is strong.”
Lozano, now 56, was among thousands of state workers who lost their jobs in the 2011 budget cuts. He was axed in July 2011 and given six weeks of administrative leave with pay, but no other severance.
“After 22 years of state service, I was told that my position as an Information Specialist V in the No Child Left Behind Division had been eliminated and that I had one hour to pack up my personal belongings (under the watchful eye of another TEA employee), surrender my building access card and leave the building ASAP,” he wrote.
I’ve no idea whether we needed an Information Specialist V in TEA’s No Child Left Behind Division. And I believe government jobs must exist for some purpose other than providing government jobs. But the fact is Lozano was laid off.
Shortly after his forced exit from TEA, Lozano began a job hunt that continues today.
“Despite applying for more than 100 jobs during the last 23 months, I’ve had only 10 interviews,” he wrote. “You would think that someone with as much experience as I have as a high-profile, in-demand spokesman for a state agency like TEA, that often found itself in either the Legislature’s or news media’s cross hairs, wouldn’t have any trouble getting a job in the public information or communications office of another state agency.”
Lozano noted that he fielded a lot of calls during George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign from reporters inquiring about Bush’s education record as governor.
“I find it ironic that after practically defending Bush’s education record as governor and later working in the TEA department named for his landmark rewrite of the country’s federal education laws, I wound up losing my job,” Lozano wrote.
He was at TEA from 1987 until December 2000 when he left for an education technology company where he was laid off in August 2001. After a brief stint at the Texas Medical Foundation, he returned to TEA in September 2002 as executive assistant to the deputy commissioner for dropout prevention. State budget cuts in 2003 led to a transfer to the No Child Left Behind division.
Let’s pause here for rumination. None of us are guaranteed jobs for life. The only guarantee is that we’ll get paid for the period of time we work someplace. Some of us are fortunate enough also to have work-related retirement plans of some sort, though that seems to be kind of a 20th century notion.
Lozano did his job and he got his paychecks and then his job went away. That’s kind of a 21st century notion.
“I don’t know why my applications haven’t gotten more notice,” Lozano wrote, “but I’m beginning to wonder if it’s because I happen to be 55. Or maybe it’s that I’m not politically connected, like some of the other high-profile TxDOT hires have been.”
TxDOT is the Texas Department of Transportation, where Lozano says he’s applied for more than 30 jobs. There’s no doubt that, in seeking state employment, being politically connected is an advantage. And the age thing is real, though I wonder if opting to hire a younger worker over an older worker can be a legitimate business decision that should be left to employers’ discretion.
Stats: In June, when the national unemployment rate was 7.6 percent, the rate among males age 55-59 was 5.6 percent. In Texas in 2012, the average unemployment rate for men age 55-64 was 4.9 percent.
I’m unaware of Lozano’s level of technological know-how (he says it’s pretty good), but folks of our generation have lived and worked through technology changes probably unencountered by any previous generation. I wrote my first newspaper stories on a manual typewriter with carbon paper. It was edited by red pencil.
Since leaving TEA, Lozano has done some freelance graphic design work and co-authorized a niche-audience football book published in January: “Coaching the I-Bone Option Attack Offense.”
“Other than that, I haven’t had any work since being laid off from TEA on July 15 of 2011,” he wrote.
Lozano, who’s never married and has no kids, had a scheduled interview last week for a public information officer job at a state agency. And he’s waiting to hear back about a previous interview. Somehow, he seems to remain upbeat about his situation.
“I’ve been living off savings, which have been dwindling since my unemployment benefits ran out at the end of last year.,” he wrote. “So far I’ve been able to pay my bills and hang on to my house in South Austin, though if I don’t find a job by the end of the year I may have to put the house on the market.”
Like I said, this is far from the saddest story you’ll hear this week. But, to the extent Lozano’s not alone in his plight, I thought it worth telling.
In his email, he suggested this headline: “Former high-profile spokesman enduring hard times.”