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Can Older Workers Overcome Worsening Job Prospects?

Just as college graduates take unpaid internships in the hopes of landing jobs, older and retired workers in search of full or part-time work may benefit from using volunteer stints as a springboard back into employment, experts say.

Job prospects for older workers show no signs of improving, unfortunately, even if at 6.7%, the unemployment rate among workers 55 and over last month remains far lower than the 9.1% rate for Americans overall, according to an AARP report released this week.

Since 2009, older Americans have joined the workforce in greater numbers than any other population group, however, those out of work tend to remain so far longer than their younger counterparts, the report found.

Among the unemployed, 60.7% of workers 55 and over were out of work for more than 27 weeks in September – up from 54.9 percent in August, the study found. Younger workers tend to move back into the ranks of the employed quicker, with only 43.4% of the unemployed out of work that long.

To improve one’s chances in the job market, Jean C. Setzfand, AARP’s vice president of financial security, suggests considering unpaid work, if possible.

“If the going is tough, which it really can be right now, consider volunteering for a position with an organization that you think might eventually hire you,” she says.


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    • Another approach is to take temporary/contract jobs. With these, age is less of anissue, since the hiring company is looking primarily for expertise and isn’t paying any benefits (so expensive healthinsurance for an older worker is avoided). You can do this either as a freelancer, working as a 1099 status through your own sole proprietorship business (you’ll have to file a Schedule C on your taxes), or you can work through an agency, where you’ll be the employee of the agency itself, who then “shops you out” to the client with the need.

      Many of these agencies offer some level of benefits, though you usually have to pay the full cost yourself. It can work out to be cheaper than getting an individual health plan, since the agencies usually have access to group plans and get group rates.

      Contract work can be a good way to get current experience, which helps with the “you’ve been unemployed too long” scenario many are also facing these days. Plus, in some fields, the pay for contract work can be quite lucrative.

    • Sorry, Sharon, what we definitely do not need is one more anti-discrimination law or one more “government program” for which there are NO FUNDS. I was hired for my present position at age 59, and I’m now 62 and hope I can stay with my company for the rest of my working life. You need to find companies with lots of long-term employees. Maybe some “seniors” organization might want to post information about existing companies’ record of hiring and keeping mature employees.

    • This doesn’t sound like anything new. People of all ages have been volunteering to network or to get their foot in the door for along time.

    • The age discrimination is blatant and overwhelming. There are few online job applications that don’t require that age be revealed – even if indirectly. How difficult would it be for Congress to pass a law that restricts that inquiry? The only question should be “Are you over 18″ or “Are you over 21″ depending on the job. There also needs to be a huge education and communication initiative undertaken related to stereotypes of older people related to employment – similar to that of Gays or tobacco. What about it, AARP?? Finally, everyone – but especially older people who are suffering greatly from being unemployed – needs to have access to a national and state jobs program, even if it’s only for a couple of years. That’s the only way they will get back on their feet. What is the problem with doing that when the government has trillions for banks and corporations and for a failed first stimulus, but no jobs for the millions of unemployed or barely subsisting underemployed? This is what those “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations should really be about.

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  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.