To Stephen Rhymer, a job is about much more than getting money in return for work. It is also a way of fitting into society.

 “There is a great store society puts in having a job,” said Stephen, a 59-year-old from Edmond, Okla. “Not having one makes you a social pariah.”

In the 2 1 / 2 years since Stephen was laid off from a public relations firm, he has seen his social network slowly distance itself from him. He lost connections with acquaintances, friends and finally, family members.

 “There comes a point when your family and friends don’t want to hear about it anymore, and I think for all of mine that’s pretty much where they are,” Stephen said. “I get it. It’s just how it is.”

Now, unemployment is threatening his health, too. Already receiving Social Security disability benefits due to a spinal ailment, Stephen needs knee replacement surgery but can’t afford the co-pay.

(Courtesy of Stephen Rhymer)

Despite searching for jobs for several hours a day, Stephen has been unable to find anything. He fears he is being discriminated against based on his age and the fact he has been out of work for so long.

 But most of all, Stephen said, unemployment has taken away his sense of self-worth.

 “The longer you're unemployed the more you question yourself, your abilities and your worth to society,” he said.