Image: Older worker © Cha Cha Royale, Brand X, Corbis

It was not all that long ago that people could hope to stay gainfully employed with a company for many years and perhaps even an entire career. Loyalty was a two-way street: Employees worked hard to complete the tasks at hand, and companies valued workers' individual contributions and experience. The number of years on the job was a plus, and seniority was a virtue.

Now job-hopping has become the norm and longevity at a single job a distant memory. It is likely that current workers will move through multiple jobs during a career. Sometimes a job change is the result of a personal decision to find something new or better. But many workers find themselves forced from their jobs into a market overpopulated with many other highly qualified individuals searching for their next gig. For older employees, a layoff or buyout can be especially challenging:

● Half of current retirees say they retired earlier than they originally planned, mainly due to health or disability issues, according to a 2012 Employee Benefit Research Institute study.

● In addition to health issues, seniors may find themselves without jobs due to economic issues beyond their control.

● The median length of unemployment has more than tripled for those older than 55 since the recession started. What was typically 10 weeks of unemployment before the recession had ballooned to 35 weeks by 2011.

● Increasing health care costs may cause companies to be reluctant to rehire older workers because they employers may assume older workers will be expensive to insure.

But you can recover from an unexpected early retirement. Here are a few ways to cope if you’re facing involuntary unemployment:

Try to save your job. Before you just accept a layoff, you may want to plead your case to your employer. Explain in detail the value you add to the company, the years of experience that have made you a model of efficiency, how you set an example for others and why it makes sense to keep you. Be specific with examples of just how you have made things better. Describe the cost of hiring and training a replacement and the risk of hiring the wrong person and losing months of productivity. Help to defuse the misconception that older workers are more expensive. However, the unfortunate reality is that this is an uphill battle if the decision has been implemented across the company and the wheels are already in motion.

Start your own business. Sometimes losing your job can be just the push needed to do something yourself. You can pursue a course you feel passionate about. Whether a short-term choice until you find something else or a new career, taking those first steps can be crucial. If you enjoy identifying and completing one project at a time you may want to look into contracting or consulting engagements that utilize your work experience. A home-based businesses can require a minimal initial investment and provide flexibility in hours without the hassle of commuting. Turn a hobby you enjoy into a money generator, whether you are an aspiring writer, crafter, musician, builder or blogger. Try to view this as not only an unexpected challenge but also an opportunity.

Volunteer. If you need to continue working but have few options available, you may want to consider volunteering at an organization you are interested in. Get in the door and build a reputation as a dedicated, energetic worker in the hopes of being in the right place at the right time when other opportunities arise.

Retire. Despite their best efforts, some people will find that the working world has few opportunities for them. Only a third of older workers displaced between 2007 and 2009 found full-time work by 2010, and often at reduced wages, according to a Government Accountability Office report. Many seniors want and need to work, but some simply can't find jobs. Unexpected early retirement may require significant cuts expenses and lifestyle in order to live on savings that must be tapped sooner than planned.

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