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Online Project Documents Struggles of Unemployed Older Americans

Journalist Susan Sipprelle interviews unemployed older Americans, who are out of work on average of 44 weeks, according to a recent study.

The hardest thing 61-year-old Luanne Jones has had to deal with since becoming unemployed has been her increasing dependence on her grown children.

“I’ve always been the helper of the kids, they always would come to me, so now it’s hard,” the former office worker and Glendora resident says in her interview for Over Fifty and Out of Work. The online multimedia project has chronicled the struggles of the Baby Boomer generation to find work since the Recession hit through video testimonies.

In her interview, Jones says she has been out of work since July 2008, when the nonprofit organization and domestic violence shelter she worked for lost its funding.

“I feel I’m very qualified,” Jones says. “But I’m not getting job offers.”

Jones, as well as the 100 other interviewees from across the country, have been out of work for a prolonged period of time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 49.1 percent of older jobseekers were still unemployed after 27 weeks or longer in February 2010, compared with 28.5 percent of workers aged 16 to 24 years old.

AARP reported that the average duration of unemployment for older jobseekers hit 44 weeks in January 2011.

According to the Urban Institute, unemployment rates for Americans aged 55-64 are at 7.3 percent for men and 6.4 percent for women in June 2011.

Jones tells the interviewer, with the emotional distress of three years of unemployment becoming visible as the interview goes on, that her confidence has waned as the situation becomes more desperate. Her unemployment benefits have run out and she is slowly depleting her savings.

“One of the hardest things for unemployed people is that you get discouraged when you hear, ‘No, no, no, I don’t have any openings, we hired somebody else, ‘” says Jones. “It’s hard to stay positive. But you have to.”

Journalist Susan Sipprelle began Over 50 and Out of Work in February 2010 after she began to see how the Recession had deeply impacted some of her own former colleagues.

“I think the most important message of the project is what a shock it is for someone over the age of 50 to lose their jobs,” said Sipprelle in an interview with Patch.  “Many of them have been working since teenagers. To lose a job and benefits is a really difficult thing to comprehend…there is an unspoken age discrimination when you find that number of older workers are out of work for more than a year.”

Through her research, Sipprelle found that 1 out 7 older American workers lost their jobs in the Recession. She said many older Americans find themselves targets of layoffs because of their higher salaries, and companies – looking to save money and boost profits – are seeking younger and cheaper labor. Many of the unemployed workers she interviewed were not part of unions where seniority may have been a benefit.

Although economists are seeing hints of recovery, Siprelle said the picture has not brightened much for most of the subjects in the project.

Only 9 out of the 100 interviewees have been able to find jobs comparable to the salaries and benefits that they had before. Forty have not been able find work at all while the rest have found jobs at a much lower pay or without any benefits.

Many are seeing a future of “constrained means,” as they are forced to take Social Security benefits early with reduced monthly payments, said Siprelle, who is currently filming a documentary with a team based on her interviews.

Jones, who still has not found a job since filming her interview with Sipprelle, has applied for Social Security benefits early, a move she estimated could cost her $300-$400 less each month.

But the struggles of older Americans in finding work is not merely about age discrimination, says Barbara Latasa, President and CEO of . 

“Many mature unemployed simply rely on their experience to find a job,” said Latasa. “Many of them have been doing the same thing for years, maybe decades. There’s no versatility, and no sharpening of skills. Employers want to see that you’re current and fresh with your skills and knowledge.

"If you’ve been out of work for a long period time without any current job training, it’s a strike against you.”

Latasa cites free job training through organizations such as LA Works and online tutorials to help keep resumes and work experience fresh.

But the biggest challenge for those unemployed longer than a year?

“Once someone has been unemployed for more than a year, they lose their confidence,” said Latasa. “Employers can see right through that. Applicants need to do whatever it takes – coaching, surrounding themselves with people in the field, networking – to keep their confidence up.”

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