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Fighting Foreclosure

Older Low-Income Workers Struggle to Keep Their Homes

“It just makes the situation that much worse, and in some ways, more frightening,” said Cynthia Metzler, president and chief executive officer of Experience Works, based in Arlington, Va. “If you need money to survive and don’t have the wherewithal either skill-wise or opportunity-wise, it is pretty frightening, particularly when you didn’t think that was going to happen to you.”

For most of the workers, she says, there is no end in sight even if they do find jobs. She says the prevailing philosophy is, “I need to continue working indefinitely or for a very long time.”

An underclass that’s getting younger

The study also shows how the recession is creating an expanded subclass of the unemployed, including many people who just a year or two ago saw themselves as solidly middle class. Metzler says the population her group serves is becoming younger, with more and more people ages 55 to 60. She also says the recession and the influx of new people thrown out of work has “stressed and strained” her operations.

Kat Brown was a senior buyer for an automotive parts company in Cadillac, Mich., until she was laid off three years ago and awoke to a hard new reality.

“I was 55 years old and out of work for the first time in my life,” she says. She subsequently exhausted her unemployment benefits. She sold her jewelry and family heirlooms. She got divorced and got a roommate to share living expenses, for the first time since she left high school. “You make choices when you are out of work for two and a half years,” she says. “I had to borrow money from a stranger to get gas money to drive to an interview.”

Working for the Washington, D.C., city government for 19 years, Sharon Bartee also figured she had a measure of security.

Then, a year ago, she lost her $100,000-a-year job and wrestled with depression for months. “It is a devastating thing. I thought, ‘Oh My God. What’s next? What’s going to happen to me?’ It took me a while to come back,” says Bartee, 64.

Both Brown and Bartee are enrolled in Experience Works programs. Their work is part time and the pay is roughly minimum wage. But they consider themselves among the lucky ones.

For the study, Experience Works surveyed 2,072 people employed in local agencies under the federal community-service program in 30 states.

More study findings:

• Among all people surveyed, the average targeted retirement age was 72. Some 90 percent of those surveyed who are age 76 or older planned to continue working in the next five years.

• Nearly three-fourths (73 percent) agreed that their age makes it difficult to compete for jobs with younger workers.

• Some 68 percent said their retirement income was not enough to live on.

• Some 45 percent said they had planned to be retired by now.

• More than one-third (38 percent) had retired but were again looking for work, frequently because they had inadequate savings to live on.

Carl Lindstrom is on his third job search since 2001. He spent 20 years working as a post production technician in the film industry in California and working for the Air Force, among other employers, before digital technology dried up demand for his services.

In 2002, he moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to become a projectionist at an IMAX theater at a science museum. He had insurance and a job he liked. But the museum went under in January 2008.

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