Assistance is available for job-seeking seniors

by James Williams

Starting her day at 5:30 every morning, Betty Nielsen has a cup of coffee, takes a shower, gets dressed and catches the news headlines on a local television station. She does all this before catching the bus headed toward her job in downtown Salt Lake City.

There is one thing that sets her apart from the other commuters on the bus, though: Nielsen is 68.

“I’ve been working all my life,” Nielsen said, “there’s no reason to stop now.”

Nielsen is among the growing population of senior citizens who remain in the workforce. Some work out of necessity, while others work by choice, but one thing is certain: The number of seniors in the workplace is increasing.

According to the United States Department of Labor, between 1977 and 2007 the number of employed workers over 65 increased 101 percent. The number of women, like Nielsen, increased nearly 147 percent.

Employment of those 75 and older also increased by a staggering 172 percent during the same period.

Nielsen works out of necessity. Aside from her paycheck, Social Security is all she has to cover expenses.

“Bills pile up and Social Security just doesn’t cover them all,” she said. “I have to work to survive.”

Other seniors are also in her situation. According to “Older Workers,” a career guide produced by Utah’s Department of Workforce Services, Social Security benefits accounted for 37 percent of the older population’s total income in 2005. This might explain why a growing number of senior citizens are choosing to work full time.

In fact, according to the Department of Labor, 56 percent of today’s employed seniors, 65 and older, work full time. In 1995, only 44 percent of employees 65 and older worked full time. Today, the average employee over the age of 65 makes $605 per week.

Although the number of senior citizens in the workforce has risen nationwide, the overall unemployment rate also has increased. Currently, the unemployment rate sits at just above 10 percent, the highest in nearly two decades. This rate has affected many people, including senior citizens, and has made it more difficult to find employment.

Despite the tough economic times, companies are still hiring, and there are resources available to senior citizens who would like assistance with finding employment.

One place seniors can turn to is Salt Lake County Aging Services. Through the Senior Employment Program, seniors have found employment.

“We’re a good place to start,” said Charlyn Hanson, a program representative.

Hanson, who herself participated in the program, believes it’s successful. “It’s a good program,” she said.

In fact, the program is so popular there is a three-month waiting list just to be admitted, Hanson said.

The program is open to anyone who resides in Salt Lake County and is over the age of 55. But, since the program receives federal funding, participants in the program must meet federal income requirements, which can be obtained directly from Salt Lake County Aging Services.

Once admitted into the program, seniors are given a part-time, minimum-wage job with a government office or nonprofit organization. Participants learn the skills they need to perform the job, including computer skills.

Seniors can remain in the program for one or two years, but during that time they must be actually looking for a job and register with the State’s Department of Workforce Services, Hanson said.

For those who do not qualify for the program, Salt Lake County Aging Services can still help. A folder in the lobby contains new job leads and seniors are welcome to look through it.

The county also has two employment specialists who can sit down with seniors and assess their situation, teach them interview skills and give résumé assistance.

“Even if they don’t qualify for the program, we can give them encouragement,” Hanson said.

Another place where seniors can seek assistance is LDS Employment Services.

“Our services are open to anybody,” said Frank Sano, manager of the Centerville office.

Like Salt Lake County Aging Services, LDS Employment Services is a resource center, not an employment agency. The goal is to send people out with leads, but they also provide two useful programs that are free and open to anyone.

The first is known as the Career Workshop, which is a six-hour class that is spread over two days. Seniors learn an effective way to present themselves to employers in 30 seconds, as well as the importance of résumés, cover letters and interview techniques. They also participate in a mock job interview.

Businesses spend between $3,000 and $5,000 on similar programs for their employees, Sano said. “People who have taken both say our free one is just as good.”

The other program offered is known as the Professional Networking Group. This program puts jobseekers together where they can network, or share needs and job leads, with each other. Networking is an important tool for jobseekers.

“That’s where most of the jobs are found,” Sano said. “Lawyers, CEOs and chiropractors have all attended.” The program has even helped start a few new businesses.

Catholic Community Services of Utah and Jewish Family Services also provide employment leads and other assistance to those in need.

The number of seniors who remain in the workforce continues to increase, and despite a high unemployment rate, there is hope for seniors who are looking for employment. Employers are starting to see the benefits of hiring older workers.

“Employers are realizing that old can be good,” Sano said. “They bring a strong work ethic.”