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Advice and Resources for Unemployed Workers

A jobseeker talks about what it's like trying to find a job during the coronavirus pandemic

Someone is filling out paperwork with a blue pen

Getty Images/AARP

Wilma Consul:

Singing is good for brain health. It’s a great way to increase social connections with other people, reduce loneliness -- and relieve stress. Hit it!

AARP is searching for the next American singing sensation — whether your jam is soul, rock, hip-hop, country, pop, opera or whatever gets you in the musical mood.

If you’re 50 or over, you can enter the AARP Superstar 2020 contest for the chance to be crowned AARP Superstar — and win the grand prize of five-thousand dollars. Go to superstar dot A-A-R-P dot org to submit your entry video. That’s superstar dot A-A-R-P dot org.

Bob Edwards:

While confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to spread across the country, the coronavirus pandemic is also having an overwhelming impact on the nation’s workforce. Now, older workers are having a tough time re-entering the job market.

On today’s show, we’ll hear from someone who, despite being highly qualified, says he gets callbacks for interviews, but no job offer yet.

And later, we’ll discuss a service that provides free online courses to older adults who are looking to remain competitive when looking for jobs.

That’s coming up.

Hi, I’m Bob Edwards,

Wilma Consul:

and I’m Wilma Consul with An AARP Take on Today.

Bob Edwards:

You may have heard national employment numbers are down from months prior during the pandemic. However, the total number of people unemployed is still high.

AARP’s June unemployment report says that over 3-and-a-half million adults 55 or older are unemployed. The average time that someone 55-plus remains unemployed is about 3 months.

Many have been hurt, but AARP’s Susan Weinstock says that older adults have greater difficulty finding a new job after they’ve lost their old one.

 

Susan Weinstock:

The rebound takes much longer. They take double the time to find a job as a younger worker.

Bob Edwards:

In Ocala, Florida, 58-year-old Ted Peregrim is experiencing that problem first-hand. Prior to the pandemic, he was a contract worker in IT. However, he says that contract was abruptly ended due to COVID complications.

Ted Peregrim:

I come from an IT world and I had a long career with that. And I actually have gone into being a consultant. Over the course of time though, work has been rather slim, but of course the whole pandemic has made this just a totally different story of my life. The pandemic really has made a lot of changes, none of which I would consider it to be any good. It's me trying to get work, I would say this, and I don't mean to sound funny but it's made it 80 times worse.

It's really escalated the difficulty where a lot of times you feel that it's almost at an impossible level because if you have these ideas about trying to get work, you're in line behind quite a few other people.

Bob Edwards:

Part of that difficulty isn’t just that a lot of people are suddenly looking for work. Ted says age discrimination plays a factor in why he hasn’t been hired.

Ted:

I don't have a problem obtaining interviews, but just the matter of fact of getting hired. I think it's because of age and also the fact that I always get a lot of like, "Well, maybe you're overqualified," or this or that.

Bob Edwards:

The word “overqualified” has come up on this podcast before. Back in October, we spoke to Dale Kleber, an attorney who applied for nearly 150 jobs in 2014 without a single interview or callback. One position he applied for listed a strange clause in the description: “no more than seven years of relevant legal experience.”

Dale Kleber:

Overqualified, frankly, I believe is a code word for over-aged many times, not always, but in most cases, and I believe in my case, countless others like my case, I believe what really is going on is there is an inherent bias toward the older worker.

 

Ted Peregrim:

I had gotten interviews. These were all over the phone and to tell you the truth, now this is from a list of companies, verified companies that were supposed to be hiring. And The response though, is that we decided to put the position on hold.

Ted:

I've gone through some of my savings. My wife is working. But that income and whatever I have, we're getting by.

Bob Edwards:

Ted continues his job search with no success so far. Apart from the endless job applications he sends -- and indulging in his hobbies here and there -- Ted also participates in online seminars that help to build his resume. Weinstock says that’s the right thing to do if you’re in between jobs.

Susan Weinstock:

Now is a great time to take a class online, learn something new. There’s lots of free courses out there that people can take. This is a great time to put that on your resume. Demonstrate that you’re a lifelong learner, demonstrate that you’re a go-getter, that you’re continuing to build your skillset.

Fix that LinkedIn profile, look it over, make sure it really shows the best of you. Fill it in the best that you can.

Bob Edwards:

After the break, we’ll hear about a free online service that can help you do just that. Stay tuned.

Wilma Consul:

Older workers who find themselves suddenly back in the job market /may find that things are a little different nowadays. All-but-gone are the days of mailing resumes and cover letters to prospective employers.

In this digital era, most aspects of the job hunt are online, including classes that can help sharpen your skills and make your resume stand out.

Our guest, Tom Kamber, is the Executive Director of a service that provides these sorts of classes to older adults free of charge.

 

It’s called Senior Planet, and its online courses help older students /learn technology skills, reach their career goals, and find community.

Welcome, Tom.

Tom Kamber:

Thank you very much. I'm happy to be here.

Wilma Consul:

Tell me a little bit about the history of Senior Planet. Why did you start it?

Tom Kamber:

Well, I was working here in New York City in the years after the 9/11 catastrophe, and I was approached by an older woman while putting together a website for Lower Manhattan. And we were doing a website event and she called up and said, "I would like to come to your website party, but I don't know anything about the internet and I'm not sure if I would feel welcomed at an event that was focused on technology." And she was in her 70s. And I was very struck by that because she didn't feel really engaged in the digital world. So I started working with her as a tutor and realized that there was a real need in the nonprofit sector for more support for older people who were learning all these new technology skills.

Wilma Consul:

Can you give me a little bit information on what kinds of courses do you guys offer?

Tom Kamber:

Sure. We do a lot of basic classes because the majority of people, when they first come in contact with Senior Planet, the most common challenge that people have are still the very straightforward issues about what kind of tablets should I buy? Or what kind of phone should I use? Or somebody gave me this, some kind of an Amazon Echo and it's still shrink-wrapped in the box. And they'll show up at our center and say, "How do I use... First of all, what is this thing? And then secondly, how do I use it? And should I use it?" And so, we'll sit down with people and we'll train them the basic technology.

And so a typical first timer will come in, and we call it on-ramping because they're just starting out. They'll on-ramp into one kind of device. And we have typically 10 week courses. Again, this is all pre-COVID. Now everything's very digital, fully digital, but pre-COVID, people would come for a 10 week class and we would teach them how to use an iPad or a Chromebook or a PC. And then very quickly, as soon as they've got the basic tech skills, we pivot our focus from technology into what you might call lifestyle topics in aging.

Wilma Consul:

Do you have any assistance for older Americans who actually might not have Wi-Fi at home?

Tom Kamber:

We do have some really successful programs that are running right now. So first of all, people may not know this, but Zoom is something that for many sessions, people can participate with the telephone. You can get the phone number and dial in on the phone and do an audio version of it. You can hear it. Depending on what it is, you won't be able to see people's faces, but you can hear most of that content. And so we really make sure that everybody who's not connected but just wants to participate, can get those Zoom phone numbers. And I would encourage people to learn how to do that and to get somebody to pick up the information so that they can call in and participate, even if it's by audio for starters.

Secondly, for people who are first time learners, we have programs on Senior Planet. There are a toolkits for people that are just learning to get online and they can get access to information about what you can purchase and how to sign up for things like Wi-Fi at home. And then we advocate for programs to expand the availability of free and low-cost internet and devices for people. And so we're partnering here in New York City with a really amazing initiative where the mayor, Mayor de Blasio, has announced a program to give away 10,000 free tablets. They're T-Mobile enabled tablets, and people are getting free T-Mobile service, and OATS (Older Adults Technology Services) is responsible for making sure that everybody is trained and everybody gets the maximum benefit out of those tablets. And they're all low income people that live in public housing here in New York.

And that's just the first of these initiatives. We're trying to get something up and running in San Antonio. We really believe that this is a model that's going to grow around the country because it's really making a big difference for people where poor people can get access to a basic piece of technology with a corporate sponsor like T-Mobile and with a nonprofit partner that provides all of the beneficial training that allows people to really make something out of that. And we do the classes in English and Spanish and other languages as well.

Wilma Consul:

So with this pandemic and a lot of people quarantining and then locked down, if someone got that tablet and they really don't know how to use it, how do you go about teaching the individual how to use it?

 

Tom Kamber:

Well, it's a classic chicken and the egg problem because on the one hand, you're trying to say like, "I'm going to teach you how to use the tablet." And then they say, "Well, but aren't you going to have to use the tablet to communicate with me about this?" And so what we have learned is there is a way to teach people the steps over the phone before they actually need to use the tablet for a class. So we've done 40,000 phone calls now since COVID started to older people who need help with us, and my team and I just had a call about this yesterday.

What we're doing with people is giving them preliminary support. They get materials in the mail from the, this is the New York City model, but we could do it with anywhere. They get materials in the mail that support the actual tablet. The tablet itself is set up with specific buttons that you can just push that'll bring you right to the right sites to get the information. But even before that, we have the person's phone number and call and offer them help in setting the tablet up. And virtually, everybody says yes of course, because it's helpful for them.

And we'll spend, it usually takes approximately an hour for one of my trainers, and these are the best trainers in the world. They're people that have lots of experience and they're really well trained and supported to do this stuff. They can spend an hour on the phone with an older person, and everyone we've worked with has been able sign up for the basic internet service, get the tablet turned on, and we sign them up for Gmail so that they have an email account which is required to then start using the apps on the tablet. So that gets them up and running. And then they schedule their first class session and they're actually ready to take that session because they have all of the logistics worked out that we've done over the phone with them ahead of time. It's pretty carefully structured, but it takes about an hour. And if you've got the hour, we can get you online.

Wilma Consul:

Well, I like that. You guys, that's a lot of hard work. So, thank you for doing that. It's really needed. In this pandemic as well, a lot of people are not working right now, but a lot of people are also getting ready to go back to work or looking for a job. What's the situation now with you and the older job seekers? What's the benefit of going to Senior Planet?

Tom Kamber:

Well, there's a few things. I think, first of all, older people that are going into the job market today are facing, it's a very competitive environment. And even, especially now when there's such high unemployment and so many younger people are looking for jobs, you're coming up against a time when there's a lot of competition. And also frankly, a lot of people that are hiring have negative stereotypes because of ageism where it's not a level playing field. And you have to be aware... People know this. I'm not telling anybody anything they don't already know. But when you come at the job market then, you've got to address the fact that older people need to show in their resume and their applications that they are in a learning mode and that they have some technology skills so that they are ready to succeed in a modern work environment.

And if you take a Senior Planet class or two, the classes are all free, and we have courses that are very relevant to things that people might want. First of all, we actually have a course called Job Searching in the Digital Age, which is a class at OATS, and people could take the job searching class and it helps you understand, for example, the value of using even a Gmail account for your email instead of maybe a really old AOL email address. Maybe your AOL email... Your AOL email address might be what your friends use, but when you're applying for a job, it immediately says that you're using a technology that's kind of outmoded. So we encourage people to get an updated email address, and then we encourage them to learn how to make a resume that it's formatted correctly and then it's saved in a PDF format.

PDF is a format that allows you basically to send an image of your resume that's fully formatted and it looks like the actual final copy so that when the person receives it and you're applying for that job, they are able to just read your resume and it just looks professional and well packaged for them. So that kind of a course can help you set your best foot forward when you're looking for the job, but then also the cover letter, what to say in an email. If you're taking a course in, for example, we have a course in cloud storage, we have a course on video chatting, so people are comfortable with that, and you could put in a job application, "I've been taking classes at Senior Planet on technology so that my technology skills are up to speed and I'm ready to do video chats and I'm ready to handle an office environment when we get to that point and I'm able to be productive."

And that I think gets you that even level playing field so that people that are doing the hiring will at least stop being negative about the potential older client and rather the older applicant, and take a minute and take you seriously and give you a chance to really make your case.

Wilma Consul:

Tom, have you heard from any of the people who've taken courses at Senior Planet about stories, how their courses have helped them get jobs?

Tom Kamber:

We do actually, and we've really had a number of really great success stories from people over the years. First of all, just starting out years ago when we were teaching our job searching classes, people were coming in and telling us that it was helping them work. One of our earliest members was an actor who is hard of hearing, and when he would call for an audition to do television commercials, he couldn't handle the phone conversations because he couldn't hear them. And so he learned how to do email so that he could send email information and set up the audition and then get the actual copy that he was supposed to deliver during the audition and show up and do the pitch because television commercials actually don't require that you have great hearing.

And the guy's a wonderful actor, so he extended his working life by several years. And then of course, when he ended up with all the writing skills that he was developing from writing so much, he then started a writer's group down in Florida and started writing plays. So he ended up... He won a play competition as part of his work after his first round of connecting with those. And I just got an email from a woman the other day who said that she has been taking our courses and she's become a census enumerator and is working on collecting census data and information. She's doing some of that work already over the phone and it's supporting the census gathering. And then she says, as the census goes back to some of the face-to-face work, she's going to be able to work in the compiling of the census.

And she said she made enough money that she bought an old car. It's a 1987 car. So I'm not sure I can... It doesn't sound like it's like... She's not buying a Ferrari or anything, but she said that she's using that car that she's part of a pool club in New Jersey. She lives in New York City, and she said people won't come visit her in the city, so she has to go out to Jersey to visit people. And they're all socially distancing, but she didn't have a car. She said she saved enough money from the census work she's doing to buy the car, and now she's able to go to New Jersey and participate in the pool club. And it's really helping her stay socially engaged, which for everybody, is such a powerful physical and emotional benefit.

So those are just some short examples. A lot of people are freelance writers online that take our courses and that's been helping them grow their income. And then there's an entrepreneurship side as well, by the way, which I could talk about. There's a lot of creative business ideas that older people are pushing now that are helping them supplement their income. So it's not just working for hire for some other company, but also starting your own business, which has been making a difference.

Wilma Consul: So you're clearly doing great things with Senior Planet, Tom. What is the satisfaction for you? What is the personal reward here?

Tom Kamber: When I was a kid, I got excited about social change because I thought it was cool. I was literally a 15 year old kid growing up in New Jersey, and I started reading books about the 1960s, and I saw all the protestors and how impressive they were. And I watched speeches by Martin Luther King and I got really inspired about social change. And so when my friends were all working for fast food restaurants in high school, I was knocking on doors raising money for environmental organizations to try to clean up the water in New Jersey and promote social justice things.

And so when I think about the work I do and what makes me feel really good about myself, I'm looking for things that will be more impactful where I can make a difference. So what motivates me is to say, I put in a week's work here and I can look at something that came out of it. And I can tell you, like last week, my staff did an event with ARP that had 11,000 people on a Zoom call, learning how to activate their Zoom skills. And also thousands of people were on another call learning how to get the best out of their social security manifests. And that allows me to sleep at night.

It allows me to just come home and be like, "Wow, okay, listen, I'm never going to get rich doing this nonprofit stuff, but there's a social richness to it and there's a sense of pride in the nonprofit sector." It doesn't get enough credit sometimes or enough recognition for the work that all of us are doing. None of us are doing it alone. It's all a team effort, but people are working night and day to make the world a better place. And in this world where there's so much negativity, the fact that people are helping me do this and that we've been able to survive and grow for 16 years is testament that there is something going on that's right out there, and people are aging better together. And I'm just really honored to be part of them.

Wilma Consul:

Tom Kamber is the founder and executive director of Senior Planet, an educational institution with courses in both English and Spanish. You can learn more at seniorplanet.org. Tom Kamber, thank you so much for sharing your stories with us. And good luck, more power to Senior Planet.

Tom Kamber:

Thank you, Wilma. I really enjoyed talking to you today.

Bob Edwards:

Today we remember longtime U.S. Congressman and Civil Rights hero John Lewis. He passed away on Friday, July 17th, after battling pancreatic cancer.

Representative Lewis became an icon for generations of Americans. Alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he marched in Selma, Alabama…an  event that led to the Voting Rights Act. He worked tirelessly to end injustice and discrimination for many communities.

Representative Lewis also advocated fiercely for the health and financial security of older Americans.

AARP’s Will Phillips remembers Lewis as a friend of AARP.

Will Phillips:

I had the honor to cross paths with Congressman Lewis when I was living in Atlanta and working as an Associate State Director for Advocacy with AARP, Georgia. I'll always remember how steadfast of an ally Congressman Lewis was when we were fighting for the Affordable Care Act in 2009, and later as we worked to educate AARP members and the 50 plus about the ACA after it had passed. He also joined us in our offices in Midtown for a Tele-Town Hall with thousands of our members and his constituents.

That was not easy work, but it was important work, and unbelievably, the work to defend the ACA continues to this day. And to have him on our side and to be able to spend that time with him was both affirming and inspirational. The legacy John Lewis leaves for me is that of the difference one can make individually for the good of others. And for the 50 plus and AARP members, it's obviously all of the changes that John Lewis helped bring about, but it's also everything he did in the second half of his life. He never stopped, and that's really a lesson for all of us.

Rep. John Lewis: But as a student in Nashville, I got in trouble. It was good trouble. It was necessarily trouble. To make our country a better place, we believed in the constitution, we believed in the Bill of Rights. We-

Wilma Consul:

If you liked this episode, please comment on our podcast page at AARP dot org slash podcasts or email us at newspodcast@aarp.org

Thanks to our news team.

Producers Colby Nelson and Danny Alarcon

Production Assistant Brigid Lowney

Engineer Julio Gonzalez

Executive Producer Jason Young

And, of course, our co-host Mike Ellison.

 

Bob: For An AARP Take on Today, I’m Bob Edwards.

 

Wilma: And I’m Wilma Consul.

 

Bob: Thanks for listening.

Over 3 million adults 55 or older are unemployed. On today’s episode, we talk to a jobseeker about looking for work amid a pandemic and learn about a service that provides free online courses to older adults.

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