For Older Job Seekers, An Even More Difficult Road

Oct 17, 2011

Jobs — or the lack of them — are one of main issues in the presidential campaigns as the nation's unemployment rate continues to hover around 9 percent.

Though some people have had success landing jobs in recent months, millions of Americans are still out of work. But many older people are finding it particularly difficult to get hired. Some say age discrimination is a key factor working against them.

It has been more than two years since 50-year-old Jerri Newton lost her job at a resort. She didn't qualify for unemployment benefits and goes to the Goodwill Job Center in Austin, Texas, a few times a week for computer classes. She and her husband — who's also out of work — have survived off savings and help from her sister-in-law.

Newton is in a special class of people, and not in a good way. Last month, there were more than 2 million Americans age 55 and older looking for work. Workers in that age group are less likely to be laid off, but those who do lose their jobs tend to be out of work far longer than younger workers. In Jerri's case, she says she's applied for at least 200 jobs in the past two years and had no luck getting work.

"It's hard being kicked down [and] going into these places and them saying, 'No, not this week, no, no, no,'" Newton says. "It's hard being pursuing all the time and getting the same answer."

After two years of "no", she landed an interview at a big retail chain store. It's part-time, minimum wage; not ideal, but it's something.

"Right now, I'm looking for a right-now job," she says.

That's a new thing for Newton. She held her last job for 6 years, and the one before that for 8 years. Michael Sanchez, Newton's placement specialist at the Goodwill Job Center, says her generation — those in their 50s and 60s — believed in working one or two jobs in their entire lives.

"[They] work for 20, 25, 30 years and retire," Sanchez says. "And I think never in a million years did they expect to be in their 50s job searching and starting all over again."

Job search experts say the biggest hurdle for older workers is often technology. Applying online is a lot different than going door-to-door with a resume. But some older people say there's discrimination out there, too.

"When I walk into an interview, if the person interviewing me is a 20-something year old, my heart tends to drop a little bit," says Jim Callaham, who is in his late 60s. "Because the chances of a 20-something year old hiring their granddad is small."

Both Newton and Callaham have been out of work for two years or more. Statistically, the longer a person is unemployed, the harder it is to find a new job. The situation is even worse for someone who is in their 50s or 60s.

"And that creates the real possibility that a lot of these people ... may never work again," says Richard Johnson, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. "That has tremendous implications for their ability to make ends meet today, but it's also going to really harm their retirement incomes."

That's the case for Newton and her husband. She says the money being spent on her house right now and keeping them from being homeless will probably be the money they were going to retire on.

And at a time when government services for people of all ages are being eyed for cuts, people in Newton's situation might have fewer places to turn for help in the future.

Jerri Newton did get the part-time job at the retail store. But within a couple of weeks, her hours were cut way back — forcing her to go back to hunt for a new job.

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