Landing a new job is difficult in today's economy, but people age 50 and over who lose their jobs face additional obstacles to reemployment. Many would-be employers have some misinformed (and illegal) biases against hiring older people: They think 50-plus workers will be more expensive, or won't fit in with their younger colleagues, or will lack the technological skills required to succeed in today's workplace.
The result is that once they become unemployed, older workers are, on average, out of work longer than their younger counterparts.
For example, take John Agati, 56, who spent his career in merchandising, involved in everything from overseeing the start-up of online stores for the NBA to developing more than 200 products for Disney Theatrical Productions. In 2008 he became a merchandising manager/director at a large manufacturer of wholesale promotional products and then watched in horror as the company went down the tubes a year later. Since then, he has held part-time jobs, including a weekend job selling shoes at Lord & Taylor and a position consulting with a consumer electronics company on a commission basis. "Every day for the last three years I've thought about a full-time job, even the weekends. It won't go away until I get something," he says.
After Karen Letterman, also 56, was downsized from her sales management job in 2009, she began receiving unemployment benefits. In 2010, she helped with the 2010 census, working part time for two months to gather information door-to-door. As required, she reported her new part-time gig to her local unemployment office. When the job ended, she discovered that her unemployment benefits were now based on her stint for the census. "My benefits went from $550 a week to $25 a week," she says.
By the beginning of 2012, John and Karen were members of the "99ers," the millions of people whose unemployment benefits had run out after 99 weeks. Their morale had plummeted along with their finances. Then they got lucky. The WorkPlace, a Bridgeport, Conn., nonprofit that helps long-time unemployed workers get back to work by subsidizing their earnings for the first eight weeks on a new job, was seeking participants for its new program, "Platform to Employment for the 50+."
The "senior" version of Platform to Employment at The WorkPlace is paid for by a $199,872 recession recovery income grant from the AARP Foundation. Funding covered the costs of working with two groups of 20 older people: John, Karen and 18 other 99ers age 50 and over were in the first group.