It is well known that during the nation’s gale-force recession, many older Americans who dreamed of retirement continued to work, often because their 401(k)’s had plunged in value.
In fact, there are more Americans 65 and older in the job market today than at any time in history, 6.6 million, compared with 4.1 million in 2001.
Less well known, though, is that nearly half a million workers 65 and older want to work but cannot find a job — more than five times the level early this decade and this group’s highest unemployment level since the Great Depression.
The expectation once was to pay off your 30-year mortgage before you retired, or come close. Instead, the level of indebtedness among older Americans has risen faster than in any other age group, partly because so many obtained second mortgages to take money out of their homes.
The unemployment rate for older Americans is still much better than for others — 6.7 percent compared with 9.8 percent in the general population. But 6.7 percent is more than double the level of two years ago — and far higher than the minuscule 1.9 percent rate early this decade.
And unemployed older workers stay out of work longer — 36.5 weeks on average, 40 percent longer than for the unemployed in general.
“I often get told that I’m overqualified,” said Barbara Brooks, 71, who retired in 2003 after 30 years as an administrative assistant at the University of California, Los Angeles. She said being told that is code language for “you’re too old.” But Ms. Brooks said she wanted to work — and needed to — citing her monthly mortgage of $1,500, which eats up half her monthly pension.
Tables Turned, Former Hirers Can’t Get Hired
NANCY FINK is a career coach for Maryland’s department of labor, running seminars for the most skilled unemployed workers.
For 17 years, she has counseled professionals, business managers, engineers, accountants, scientists — people who are mature, middle-aged, highly motivated, well-educated, well-spoken. But in all that time, she’s never seen so many of the jobless with such impressive skills as this last year. “Last week I had seven lawyers in this room,” she said. “I’ve had lots of folks from TV and The Baltimore Sun. This week I’ve got five human resources directors — I’ve never had that.”
They ask questions young workers don’t. David Kozlowski, 52, a systems vice president laid off in June, wanted to know how far back to go when an interviewer inquires about his work experience in information technology. “I’ve had 30 years in I.T.,” he said.
During a discussion on cover letters, Ms. Fink wondered if the human resources directors in the room had any thoughts. “It can make a big difference,” said Hal Hamil Jr., 56, unemployed since August, but before then, a senior vice president of PNC Bank making $130,000 a year. Mr. Hamil said that last March he posted three openings for tellers paying $10 an hour and got 1,008 applications. “I hired two of them because of their cover letters,” he said.
Ms. Fink warned: “You could find yourself being interviewed by a millennial. As a boomer, you’re thinking that could be my kid. Your instinct is to use their first name. Don’t. They could have an M.B.A. from Wharton. It should be Ms. or Mr.”
They discussed how to respond when an interviewer asked them to describe a weakness.
“Can you say ‘I don’t have a weakness,’ ” Ms. James, the contractor said. “‘I’m just even-keeled’?”
“No, no,” Ms. Fink said, “you need a weakness that’s not really a weakness — they want to see you dance around the question.”
After the seminar, Ms. Fink said a lot of what she does is therapy — helping worried people feel less isolated.
Her boss, Stephen Gallison, who directs the program for skilled workers known as the Professional Outplacement Assistance Center, said that in the past people typically found jobs within five months, but in this economy that’s not a reliable gauge. Asked if he saw any hopeful signs, he said: “No. Nothing. Not yet.”
Interview Tips From The Article
- Attach a cover letter to your resume.
- Be prepared to mention a weakness.
- Be prepared to answer the question “Tell me about yourself.”
- Send a thank you letter after the interview.
- Don’t use first names even if the person hiring is half your age and looks like your son or daughter. They could have an M.B.A. from Wharton.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock