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Sloan Center News

Older and Out of Work: The Job Search

states and nonprofits take the lead in creating new programs to assist older job seekers in a difficult U.S. economy

23 October 2008—Most older American workers who lose their jobs in the troubled U.S. economy will receive little or no advance notice of their layoff, little or no severance, limited assistance in terms of unemployment insurance—if they are among the 38% of unemployed Americans who qualify—and few resources to assist in their reemployment. Older workers—generally those over 40 years old—face greater hurdles in finding new jobs than younger workers, yet are underrepresented in many federally supported employment and training programs. A handful are lucky enough to work for employers who provide adequate advance notice and severance benefits, but with unemployment rising and projections for job growth grim, many older Americans will face the difficult task of finding new employment largely on their own.

According to a new issue brief by Heldrich Center researchers Carl Van Horn and Maria Heidkamp, older dislocated workers are underserved by federally-funded Workforce Investment Act programs. The main federal program devoted to low-income adults over 55, the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), serves less than 1% of the potentially eligible population and results in limited job placements.

“More Americans than ever must work beyond the traditional retirement age of 65," observed co-author Carl Van Horn, Professor and Director of the Heldrich Center. "Losing a job later in life is especially hard for people with long job tenure whose skills are considered out of date and who have limited experience searching for work in a volatile 21st Century economy.”  

Some state governments, community colleges, and nonprofit organizations are developing new initiatives for older jobseekers, which may rely on a mix of federal, state, philanthropic, private and other resources. These include

  • websites devoted to older workers, such as Tennessee’s Boomer Careers webpage;
  • the Arizona Governor’s Mature Workforce Initiative, which includes a regional Workforce Transition Center for older jobseekers;
  • a new Massachusetts Older Worker Retention Strategies project to help employers retain their over-50 workers;
  • anew Minnesota initiative to provide entrepreneurial skills training for dislocated workers over 50;
  • several AARP Foundation programs targeting individuals who would not meet the stringent eligibility requirements for the federal SCSEP;
  • community college initiatives supported by MetLife and The Atlantic Philanthropies;
  • experiments with lifelong learning accounts piloted by the Council on Adult and Experiential Learning with support from the Lumina Foundation.

There are also a growing number of private firms, as yet unregulated, who are marketing services to older jobseekers.

“In the absence of more robust federal assistance in the deteriorating economy,” notes co-author Maria Heidkamp, “employers and state and local policymakers should continue to develop innovative approaches to improve prospects for older job seekers, and researchers must evaluate these new interventions to learn which ones are most effective."

Older and Out of Work: Employer, Government and Nonprofit Assistance” (Issue Brief 17) was prepared for Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work and is a companion to “Older and Out of Work: Trends in Older Worker Displacement” (Issue Brief 16) which Boston College released in September 2008.

Both Issue Briefs are available online here »


The John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development is located at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. It is one of the nation’s leading university-based research and policy centers dedicated to raising the effectiveness of the American workplace through improved workforce education, placement and training. The Center identifies innovative workforce practices and practical economic policy changes that can help Americans receive the education and training they need to be productive and prosperous in a global knowledge economy. Web site:

The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College was founded in 2005 with a multi-million dollar grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Center sponsors evidence-based research on the response of American employers and employees to an increasingly global multi-generational workforce. In collaboration with workplace decision-makers, the Center seeks to provide employers with research data to attract, engage, and retain high-quality industry talent.

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