Older Workers Struggle Disproportionately Through Recession

With millions of aging Baby Boomers entering their senior years over the next two decades, competition among older workers is expected to grow.

Job Fair

Photo: Courtesy Photo

With the unemployment rate for 55 and older the highest since the end of World War II, the situation is becoming more difficult for an age group that isn’t known for always possessing the skill set necessary for 21st Century work environment.

Mike Mathews is self-employed now, but he’s looking for work that’s more stable. And benefits would be nice, too. Business was good once, but he’s been cut out of most of his clients’ bottom lines in the past few years.

“I go in to people who have messy offices. Can’t function in them, can’t find anything. Waste a lot of time looking for stuff. And I coach them how to get through that clutter. So they feel better about being in their office and are more productive,” Mathews said.

So Mathews, wearing a black suit with a deep crimson tie and carrying a newly polished resume, decided to take his search to a job fair exclusively for those 55 and older.

“You’re looking for seasoned talent. Not just some old person to be a Wal-Mart greeter,” he said.

That’s where Robyn Branch comes in.

“I work with individuals 55 and older who are unemployed. And we help them find employment. Help with self-esteem issues,” Branch said.

She’s the employment and training coordinator for Experience Works, a non-profit that helps the older unemployed.

“The baby boomers are aging. I’m seeing a lot more traffic.”

Branch helps train older workers through classes and individual coaching, preps them for interviews, and give their resumes a makeover. Branch and her team then try to match older workers with employers like Sandy Packman, a human resources manager at Monroe Bank.

With the unemployment rate for 55 and older the highest since the end of World War II, Packman says the situation is becoming more difficult for an age group that isn’t known for always possessing the skill set necessary for 21st Century work environment.

“People will come out and say, ‘I’m not as good on that computer as my kids or my grandkids.  If I need anything done I have to ask the kids,’” Packman said.

But Branch says her organization sends the message that the unemployed must have some level of familiarity with new technology if they hope to fit in with today’s younger workers. But not all get the message.

“But I’m also surprised how many are on Facebook. So, your grandma and grandpa are on Facebook now,” Branch said.

While employers emphasize a need for computer skills, Mike Mathews says he misses the old days. He says online applications are especially frustrating for digital immigrants…resulting in many feeling left out and helpless.

“It dehumanizes the whole hiring process itself.  Some HR person will pick what came in electronically, pigeonhole it, decide who gets a job and who doesn’t. As opposed to meeting someone face to face and building a relationship to the point where you can talk more. That’s all taken away when you have to deal with someone electronically,” Mathews said.

But Branch says older workers hold some advantages over some of their younger competition. And she says there will always be cache of employers looking specifically for them.

“I don’t want to diss the youth, but the work ethic isn’t there. Especially if they’re a student, they come and go. Especially if they have that roof over their head,” Branch said.

Monroe Bank’s Sandy Packman says she’s inclined to consider older workers for positions that require consistency above all else. And she says those positions aren’t likely to go away any time soon.

“Once people get past the child bearing and child rearing, past the train out of certain careers, there is a certain point in life where people, if they commit to a job, are reliable, dependable,  they’re going to be there. They’re not being pulled out because of a teenage crisis. There’s something to be said for that,” Packman said.

During their training, Branch says her clients are paid minimum wage, and most elect to volunteer until securing a paying position. But she admits that sometimes takes months, if not years. Branch says the process and pay scale is an adjustment for many, but inevitably, matches are made between employment-thirsty seniors and employers who want them.

Experience Works operates a local branch in Bedford and can be found online at experienceworks.org.

Daniel Robison

Daniel started as WFIU's Assistant News Director in July 2008. He graduated with a B.A. in history in 2007 and earned an M.A. in journalism two years later. Daniel hosts Ask the Mayor weekly and the occasional Noon Edition. He also hosts Morning Edition on Thursdays, sleepily. Daniel's beats include everything News Director Stan Jastrzebski wants him to cover. And it feels strange to type biography of myself in the third person like this. So that's that.

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