Finding a job proves extra difficult for older workers

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The recession has been particularly hard on older workers, and many suspect age discrimination.

Among them is Larry Wilson, a 57-year-old resident of St. Charles County. He said he long ago stopped counting rejections from employment applications and is resigned to the fact that he may never find a full-time job again.

“We all know that people are supposedly created equal, and that there’s no discrimination,” said Wilson, who hasn’t had a full-time job in eight years and has been working for the past five as a substitute teacher. “Then there’s the real world.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that unemployed job-seekers over 55 typically wait 56 weeks to find a job, far more than the 38-week average for the rest of the unemployed population.

“It’s difficult to prove without a shadow of doubt that it’s discrimination,” AARP President Robert Romasco said during a recent visit to St. Louis. “But if you talk to anyone over 50 looking for job, you know they’re not feeling the love.”

Many older job-seekers suspect employers assume that experienced employees will command higher salaries, strain the budgets for employee health care and be less tech-savvy than younger workers.

“It’s the nub of the jobs crisis that hiring managers won’t or can’t acknowledge,” said Michael McCarty, director of Business Persons Between Jobs and an adjunct marketing instructor at Maryville University and Saint Louis University. “If someone has been employed in a single profession or with a single company, they are deemed too old and too expensive to hire.”

Michael Fischer, 55, who lost his job this year as the chief executive and president of a St. Louis-area home products manufacturer, discounts the notion that older workers drain resources. He noted that employed parents in their 50s are often empty-nesters and no longer need health benefits to cover the cost of pregnancies or dependents.

Still, he is aware of the mindset of hiring managers that come across his work history.

“People see my resume and think I’m overqualified,” Fischer said. “They are skeptical when older workers say they are willing to reinvent themselves, because they think they’ll leave the next time something better comes along.”

Wilson worked steadily until his 2004 layoff as an accounts manager. He said he’s not interested in big money and would accept a sales position that pays about two-thirds of what he earned as an executive.

Experts say a willingness to move in another career direction is essential for older workers who have been laid off.

Meanwhile, career coach and author David Hults noted that the days are gone when most jobs are secured through a “front door” process that begins with a response to a posted employment opportunity, winds through the human resources machinery and ends with a formal offer.

The recent State of the St. Louis Workforce survey showed that nearly 40 percent of new employees were steered to their current jobs by friends or relatives. Just 29 percent reported learning of employment opportunities through advertisements.

Yet McCarty said most people seeking to connect with him on the LinkedIn business networking site are students, not older workers.

AARP this month introduced an initiative that encourages the hiring of older Americans. “Work Reimagined” secured commitments from 120 nationally known employers to actively recruit experienced workers for open positions.

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