If not for family, Karyn Thompson isn't sure how she would have survived after the restaurant where she was a cook for 12 years closed.
Family members have helped her with the essentials, including food and a place to live, since she lost her job in August 2008. The Indianapolis resident said laid-off workers "shouldn't be too proud" to accept help from family and friends, or government assistance.
"It's very frustrating," Thompson, 39, said. "Don't give up—keep the search going."
In the meantime, she is taking courses in culinary arts and restaurant management and hopes to find work in the field she knows and loves.
With an unemployment rate of 10 percent, Indiana is in better shape than its neighbors. But the jobless rate was double among African Americans, and pockets like Elkhart County hit 15 percent. And older workers are unemployed for an average of 10 months, much longer than younger workers, AARP research shows.
Experts say older workers not only should focus on jobs similar to those they held, but should make a deeper assessment of their interests and skills that can be translated into rewarding employment. Said Chad D. Malone, owner and founder of I.M.P.A.C.T. Consulting Group, a Seymour-based employment consulting firm, "There are still employers out there hiring. They're just looking for skills we don't think we have."
Malone said laid-off older workers often lack self-confidence after working at the same company for years. He said they need coaching to think on their feet and sell themselves to employers, so they can land jobs and thrive rather than just survive paycheck to paycheck. "They don't know how," Malone said.
Older workers should have realistic pay expectations, look closely at transferable skills and watch job market trends, said Rebecca Patten-Lemons, director of career services for Ivy Tech Community College's Central Indiana Region. Amid the gloomy unemployment news, Indiana reported job gains in professional and business services and the trade, transportation and utility sectors.
Older workers may have an important advantage as new jobs open up, said JaMarlon King, a recruiter for Hamilton Center, a community mental health facility in Indianapolis. King, who participated in a recent Indianapolis job fair cosponsored by AARP, said older workers "tend to stay around a little longer," providing the stability that employers want.
Some people strike out on their own. Kathy Jordan, 53, was laid off as vice president of team development for an Indianapolis professional sports team after a change in management. After the initial shock, she took the advice she once gave players who were cut: "It's not the end of the world." Now comfortably settled into her own consulting business, Jordan is advising amateur and professional athletes. "Change is not always a bad thing," she said.
After a successful career in television, Bob Harbin left Los Angeles to be closer to family in his native Indiana. He embraced an early passion—live theater—but was laid off in January 2009 as artistic director of an Indianapolis theater company. He set up his own company and is now doing it all—directing, running the box office and handling the curtains backstage. "I'm learning things I didn't want to know," Harbin, 58, said with a laugh.
Harbin concedes he's luckier than most. He can survive financially and hope that one day his venture will generate sufficient revenue to pay him a salary.
More resources for job seekers are available on the AARP website.
The Indiana Department of Workforce Development offers job hunting tips and has links to its Career Connect and WorkOne websites.
Jacqueline Thomas is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis.