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'Will I Ever Work Again?'

Many older workers are jobless for more than a year

En español | When the rumored pink slips finally landed at a midsize bank in Dallas, half the staff was wiped out. Alejandra Mendoza, one of the supervisors they let go, figured she'd find something soon enough.

How hard could it be to get back to work, she thought. She had 36 years of banking operations experience. Her professional reputation was unblemished.

See also: Online job training.

Alejandra Mendoza - older Americans tend to be out of work longer than younger persons

Alejandra Mendoza, 57, hasn't found a job in a year. Health insurance is a big worry. — Photo by John Keatley/Redux

Yet a year later, Mendoza, 57, is still jobless. Nearly 250 applications have yielded two interviews and no offers. She finds herself a statistic in a dispiriting trend: The unemployment crisis gripping the nation has fallen particularly hard on older workers.

"I really, really wish I could find something, even part time. It's been very frustrating and stressful," Mendoza says in the four-bedroom home in a Dallas suburb where she raised her now-grown children.

The jobless rate for people 55 and over remains lower than it is for the total labor force — 6.9 percent vs. 9.1 percent. That said, older workers are losing their jobs at a faster rate than the overall labor force; and joblessness for them has more than doubled since the recession began almost four years ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And the longer they are out of work, the harder it is for people over 55 to find something new. Government figures for August showed that younger job seekers had been without work for nine months on average; for older workers, the duration was roughly a year.

"It's always been harder for older workers to find jobs, but it's much more difficult now," says Sara Rix, senior strategic policy adviser at AARP. Many think they may never work again.

Given the choice, older workers have been opting since the 1980s to delay retirement, either for financial reasons or because they like working. But downsizing and layoffs are forcing scads of them into retirement before they are ready.

Mark Krieger, 61, was earning six figures as a business systems architect at a credit card processing firm near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when he was laid off a year ago.

He's healthy, at the top of his game, but found getting interviews difficult. To make ends meet, he sold his house. "Obviously I can contribute," he says. He was still out of work in early September but was crossing his fingers over a promising job lead.

Bleak as things appear, job market experts say much can be done to improve an older worker's chance of getting hired again. There are government-subsidized programs in every state designed to help older workers find their way back in. (The Department of Labor's Career ­ OneStop is a good place to start.)

"I won't say there isn't age discrimination out there; there is. But a lot of it is how you present yourself, what you say and how you say it," says Don Zirkle, a training and placement supervisor at Mature Services in Ohio.

Next: Older workers bring wisdom, reliability to the job market. >>

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