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Ask Maria Heidkamp about the services available to help older Americans get jobs and she'll answer that there are surprisingly few.
"One of the things that someone over 50 encounters is isolation. You used to go to work every day. Now you've been laid off. You're unsure what direction to take, and certainly unsure of yourself."
That's because federal workforce policy has been based largely on the idea that older job seekers can just use the same employment assistance programs as younger ones, despite ample evidence that age discrimination and other problems uniquely prolong the time it takes older adults to get back into the workforce.
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"The assumption was that if you have a work history, maybe even have a college degree, you should on your own be able to find a job,” says Heidkamp, who sees the predicament of older workers firsthand as director of the Rutgers University–based New Start Career Network, a program that offers training for people 45 and older who are struggling through long-term unemployment.
Advocates for older workers are concerned that the high unemployment rate the COVID-19 pandemic has caused could make it even more difficult for these adults to find jobs. More than 1.4 million people filed new claims for unemployment during the week ending July 25, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday. In June, the unemployment rate for workers age 55 and older was 9.7 percent, a decrease from 11.8 percent one month earlier, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
There is some help available for older adults who are experiencing job loss due to the pandemic or other causes. Here are some of the options:
Federal job programs offer help
The main federal program to help older workers is the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which spreads about $400 million a year among state job centers and nonprofit organizations —including AARP Foundation — to cover training for part-time community-service positions, with the idea that participants will move to private-sector jobs.
It's open to low-income people age 55 and older. Locations are searchable by zip code on another federal website, CareerOneStop. That's where you can also search for any of 2,400 American Job Centers, which offer free résumé workshops, job referrals, coaching and other services to people of any age or income.
Because these federal programs are administered locally, they vary widely in their offerings and approaches. The One-Stop Career Center in Las Vegas, for example, serves the large population of 590,000 workers in surrounding Clark County who are 55 and older.
"We know the challenges,” project director Joe Sharpe says. “They were already overrepresented in that pool and we've certainly seen that this pandemic disruption has impacted that."