Most workers who have passed their 50th birthdays have already settled into their homes and lives. Professionally most have learned what their jobs are all about and do those jobs well.
Yet many seasoned workers who are victims of the recession say the road to a new job is filled with land mines based on their age. Many believe that employers are focusing on younger workers and will eschew 35 years of experience for the fresh ideas of a recent college graduate, and some data supports this suggestion.
Others, including some employers, say they would rather hire a 50-something who has solved many work-related problems before.
There were some frustrated workers in their 50s and 60s, and even older, at a job and resource fair in Hemet on Thursday, Sept. 27. The event was co-sponsored by the Riverside County Office on Aging and Goodwill Industries of Southern California.
In July, the senior advocacy group AARP released information that said the average unemployed person 55 or older had been out of work for almost 56 weeks, compared with 38 weeks for all groups. AARP used U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
It's added up to a frustrating few years for Jackie Gilbert, a 71-year-old Hemet resident who's been looking for a steady clerical job. Gilbert said she has gotten two job interviews since 2009, but neither called her back.
Gilbert said she believes her age is the roadblock.
"Once they see my age they put up a little bit of a wall," Gilbert said.
Sharon Archuleta, 64, who was laid off from a custodial job at the Soboba Casino early in the year, agrees. "There are so many people out there looking, and (employers) want youth," she said.
The problem, older workers say, is that the suggestion that younger workers are better long-term solutions does not hold water. Chances are that a 55-year-old has a mortgage and roots in the community. He or she is unlikely to leave for a better opportunity somewhere else.
Dennis Craker, who is a few days short of his 65th birthday and worked as a computer-aided draftsman, said it was silly to expect that someone his age can't perform long-term.
"Younger guys want to move in, then move up and move out," said Craker, of Sun City. "I'm willing to settle in and do my job until I can't do it anymore."
Thursday's event included seminars on resume writing, and professionals in the field admit that technology can be a roadblock. Many older workers in the job market have never emailed a resume before.
But part of the job is also dispelling some myths.
"We tell people not to give up hope. The employers are still out there," said Mark Dunlap, program manager for the Riverside County Office on Aging. "And, we try to sell the attributes. We're punctual. We're committed. We have old-school values."
According to state data, unemployment is actually less rampant among Californians between the ages of 55 and 64. According to the Employment Development Department, the jobless rate was 8.9 percent statewide in August for that age bracket, and 10.6 percent for all ages. Unemployment is not broken down for counties by age.
However, that number does not take into account that a long-term unemployed person in his or her 60s could have opted for early retirement, which would have meant that person is no longer counted as officially unemployed.
Jobs are slowly coming back, but many employers are still reacting cautiously. That could mean that younger workers are seen as a better option.
A study released last month by Millennial Branding, a research and management consulting firm and Pay Scale, a compensation database, found out that workers under 30 tend to want to leave their jobs after two years.
That could play into the hands of some worried employers, who don't know where the economy is headed and don't want to lock themselves in to employers who want to stay for a long time.
But others disagree. Art Gage, who runs a Riverside-based executive search firm, said the companies he deals with understand the work ethic and skills of the typical 55-and-over worker. And, workers this age are a benefit because it's a wobbly economy, and not in spite of it.
"Companies need quick startups from people. They need them to do productive work from day one," said Gage, who has been in the personnel search field for almost 40 years. "They don't have the extra money or staff or time they used to have to train people."
Also, Gage said, the notion that older workers are closing in on retirement is going away. Today, more people than ever are working past 65, especially after the 2008 stock market collapse decimated so many retirement accounts.
Bob Kaplan, president of California Quality Plastics, an Ontario company that makes aquariums, trophy cases and other products, said older workers generally have few ego problems because they have already climbed professional ladders. They've learned skills and can use them, he said.
"I've never had a problem with hiring a seasoned veteran," said Kaplan, who has been hiring employees for more than two decades. "I want to hire people who are smarter than me."
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