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Older and Out of Work–Assistance—Issue Brief

by Maria Heidkamp & Carl E. Van Horn

October 2008—Older American workers who lose their jobs in the troubled U.S. economy face greater hurdles in finding new jobs than younger workers. They will receive little or no advance notice of their layoff, little or no severance, limited assistance in terms of unemployment insurance, and few resources to assist in their reemployment. However, this demographic is 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 our Issue Brief 17: Older and Out of Work: Employer, Government and Nonprofit Assistance, 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 at Rutgers University. "Losing a job later in life is especially hard for people with long job tenure whose skills are considered out of date and who have limited experience searching for work in a volatile 21st Century economy.”

Highlighted in this brief are actions by some state governments, community colleges, and nonprofit organizations to develop new initiatives for older jobseekers, which may rely on a mix of federal, state, philanthropic, private and other resources. Yet 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."

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