Older Workers Face Trouble Finding Jobs

Older Wisconsin workers remain unemployed for longer periods than their younger competitors, and some in the Madison area said on Friday they’ve struggled to find jobs for years.

Unemployed workers older than 55-years-old look for jobs for twice as long as those under the age of 30, according to published data. It’s becoming a bigger issue as older workers remain in the workforce, whether they enjoy their jobs or don’t have enough money to retire, state Department of Workforce Development economist Dennis Winters said.

“The recession certainly hit every age group, and older workers weren’t immune to that at all,” Winters said. “The prospects of retirement might not be as rosy, when their stock portfolios are down and their home equity is gone.”

Fewer physically demanding jobs, improving health care, and a greater social experience at work all contribute to people waiting longer to retire, he said.

The problem is, when older workers lose their jobs, they find getting new ones a difficult task. Older workers search for about 45 weeks, while jobseekers in their 20s look for half that amount of time, according to a New York Times analysis of U.S. Labor Department data earlier this year.

Some, such as Janis Senungetuk, of Madison, sought help from the “Wiser Older Workers” program at Madison Area Technical College. The Madison woman has been looking for work for about four years with no success, she said.

“The fact that i am 65 does not mean i’m ready to go retire to the nearest leisure community,” said Senungetuk, who is retraining herself in E-commerce and social media. “i’m going to classes right now. so my skill is as up to date as it possible could be.”

About 20 people attended the group session Friday, listening to hiring managers and college staff discuss how to improve their standings with potential employers.

“This is a large group support program — that’s what it amounts to,” Madison College counselor Al Studesville said. “Stay positive, stay engaged, keep looking, and try to avoid any type of getting depressed about your financial situation, your lack of job, and just the whole social situation about being alone.”

Some unemployed workers were concerned Friday about what they perceived as “age discrimination.” Hiring managers suggested highlighting relevant experience during interviews, relying on a support network built over the years, and addressing age instead of allowing hiring managers to wonder how an older worker will perform.

Older workers also need to get over the humility common among members of the “baby boom” generation and fight aggressively for work, Studesville suggested.

“You need to be a shameless self-promoter when you get an opportunity to interview for a job and compete for a job,” Studesville said.

Wisconsin’s unemployment situation remains sluggish for all ages. The state has added 5,563 jobs this year through October, less than over the same period the previous year. The unemployment rate was 7.7 percent in October.

“It’s not about how old you are and a lot of it isn’t what you knew, but it’s what you know now,” said Winters, the state economist. “If you’re looking for your old job, it’s probably not out there.”