Older Low-Income Workers Face Historic Crisis

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Experience Works released a new study today on the crisis facing America's unemployed, older low-income workers. The research was announced in conjunction with National Employ Older Workers Week. The Experience Woks study involved more than 2,000 unemployed older workers and more than 700 employers. Experience Works is the nation's largest nonprofit training and employment organization for older workers.

These people are at the age where they understandably thought their job searching years were behind them

In a new study of more than 2,000 low-income unemployed workers age 55 and older, 46 percent need to find jobs so they don't lose their homes or apartments, and approximately half (49 percent) have been looking for work for more than a year.

In July 2009, there were two million unemployed workers age 55 plus; the unemployment rate for this age group was the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tabulating data by age in 1948.

The perfect storm - a recessed economy, increased competition for jobs, and age-related employment barriers - has created a crisis for America's older low-income workers, according to the new study conducted by Experience Works, the nation's largest nonprofit provider of community service, training and employment opportunities for older workers.

All of the survey respondents are enrolled in the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), a community service and jobs training program for low-income older workers, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and facilitated by Experience Works in 30 states and Puerto Rico.

Many of the older workers in the study did not plan to be looking for work in their 60s, 70s and 80s, but a life event triggered their need to find employment. These triggering events include being laid off (20 percent); the death of a spouse (16 percent); and large medical bills due to a personal illness or illness of a spouse (15 percent).

More than one-third (38 percent) of older workers surveyed had retired but they are going back to work, and many have no end in sight for their working years.

For those who do have a retirement timeframe, the average targeted retirement age is 72. Ninety percent of survey respondents age 76 and older plan to continue working in the next five years.

"These people are at the age where they understandably thought their job searching years were behind them," said Cynthia Metzler, president and CEO of Experience Works. "But here they are, many in their 60s, 70s and beyond, desperate to find work so they can keep a roof over their heads and food on the table." Forty-six percent of these older job seekers say they sometimes have to choose between paying rent, purchasing food or purchasing medication.

Finding employment is a challenge for older, low-income workers. On average, these 55 plus unemployed workers have been on the job search an estimated 52 weeks. In August 2009, the average duration of unemployment for all unemployed workers was 24.9 weeks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Older workers say the poor economy and age related barriers - including lack of the necessary training - are the most significant challenges they face to finding employment. Nearly three-fourths of older workers surveyed (73 percent) strongly agree or somewhat agree that their age makes it difficult for them to compete for jobs with younger workers.

"This study underscores the need to create policies that remove barriers to employment for older workers, and provide additional programs and services specifically aimed at helping older people re-enter the workforce or remain working," said Metzler. "These actions will benefit everyone because training programs such as the SCSEP have proven to be successful in helping unemployed older workers transition to unsubsidized employment." The SCSEP, which is the only federal program designed specifically for older low-income workers, is currently funded to serve less than 1 percent of the eligible population.

To view an executive summary of the survey report Overlooked and Underserved: The Crisis Facing America's Older Workers, visit http://www.experienceworks.org.

Survey Methodology: Experience Works surveyed 2,072 job seekers age 55 and over randomly selected from among SCSEP participants in 30 states.


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Claudia Bohn
Experience Works
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