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As soon as I heard it, I shook my head and the number 397 sprang into my mind like a sudden jolt of electricity. There they were, standing on stage, reveling in the cheers, glowing in their moment of adulation, proclaiming monumental success and very possibly internally thankful that they were not under oath.

Standing in Marine Midland Arena, Mayor Masiello, County Executive Gorski, Rep. John LaFalce, Vice President Gore and President Clinton proclaimed their individual victories, economic growth and the creation of jobs, jobs, jobs.

I was thrilled by what I heard. It gave me pause to think and ponder my own failures and inadequacies. Why was it that I was not able to take advantage of all the excitement and benefits wrought forth by these monumentally proud and unabashed political leaders?

On Aug. 23, 1997, it was announced that Buffalo Specialty Products was purchased by Trinity Industries of Dallas, Texas. Within weeks, what had been expected as a result of the acquisition came to fruition. Jobs began to disappear as the new owner eliminated positions and moved work to its other 60-plus facilities. On March 3, 1998, I was told my presence was no longer required.

So here I was, a 50-year-old, educated and experienced man unemployed in Buffalo and making a career change for the third time since 1970. But I was able to find work before, so I was not concerned. No one has come right out and said I am too old or my age is a problem. But with 10,000 apparently newly created jobs, something is amiss. Particularly since I am pretty good at what I do.

That's where the number 397 comes into play. Upon becoming unemployed, I immediately registered with the New York State Employment Service, published my resume on its Internet site, sent resumes as requested to several local employment agencies, joined an employment support group and signed on with headhunters and several out-of-state employment services. Everyone was very nice and very helpful.

I sent out hundreds of blind letters of introduction with resumes, introducing myself to potential employers, and made hundreds more phone calls. Still, 397 is what I consider to be the important number. That's because 397 represents the actual number of legitimate, open and available employment opportunities that I've applied for in addition to my blind mailings. They were positions that I believe I was currently capable of being successful at and those that I felt very confident I had the ability to become successful at.

Of the 397 applications and blind mailings, I was called in for only 10 interviews. I was interviewed by 2.4 percent of the companies to which I had applied, and less than 1 percent of all mailings. What is even more telling is that of those 10 companies, not one of them told me I did not get the job. Their silence was their professional manner in which to advise an applicant that they appreciated your coming in for an interview, but at this time they chose another.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of people in the same situation. They may be out of work, or are currently working in one or more jobs well below their skill and experience levels. Plus, there are many people who go to work every day looking over their shoulder, waiting for the ax to fall and send them to the streets. I know of college professors, executives, managers and professionals who can't find work. I'm sure this situation is worse for the unskilled.

All of this may be a part of life that we must accept. But don't stand before me and tell me with big grins, happy laughter and great jocularity that everything is great when reality shows it simply isn't so.

MICHAEL R. WRONA lives in West Seneca.

For writer guidelines, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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