Road to employment longer for older workers
BURIEN, Wash. -- They are called the “New Unemployables.”
The term applies to older workers who cannot find a job.
Marsha Milroy grudgingly fits into this category. She lost her job as a news researcher when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stopped publishing newspapers in March 2009. Nearly two years later, she has only had three job interviews.
In one interview, she said the employer asked, “How many more years do you plan on working?”
In another interview, “They didn’t want to offend me by offering an entry-level position,” Milroy said.
She has extensive researching experience and is fluent in Spanish. But Milroy fears her age is a major job-hunting obstacle. It is why she does not want to disclose her age for this story and is tentative to even put the start date for her first job on social-networking sites, like LinkedIn.
Milroy is afraid if she does not find a job soon, her unemployment benefits will come to an end and she could lose her Burien home.
National statistics show the road to employment is much longer for older workers. The average length of unemployment for those 55 and older was 44.4 weeks in January, according to the U.S Department of Labor. For those 54 and under, it was 33.9 weeks.
“Older workers are taking anywhere from two to four months longer to find suitable work,” said Craig Riggs, a senior social worker for King County. “It’s tough out there.”
Riggs focuses on helping older workers find jobs by teaching them to highlight their advantages, like maturity, loyalty and experience. He also teaches them to counter myths that older workers are less productive or less capable of learning new things.
“One of the biggest mistakes that older job seekers make is they underestimate the competition,” he said. “What I teach in my workshop is they have to compete a little harder than the general population.”
Sometimes that means going back to school. Milroy is now learning to become a paralegal, a job that is now in demand.
“I am entry-level and would be thrilled with an entry-level job,” she said.
Milroy is getting help through Highline Community College’s worker retraining program. The school is currently training about 700 laid-off workers and many are in their 50s and 60s, said John Huber, the school’s director of workforce education services.
“We try to get them some skills that will put them back in demand,” he said.
Through her paralegal classes, Milroy has made unemployed friends who fully understand her struggle. One of those friends, Jerri Corbett, lost her job last May. Her home will go into foreclosure next month, but she remains surprisingly optimistic.
“I thought, how fortunate I am to be presented with an opportunity at my age, and I’m 55, to recreate myself,” she said.