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Older Job Seekers in Texas Struggle to Find Jobs, But Find Strength in Numbers

Veronica Zaragovia/KUT
Nancy Ruiz gets her photo taken for her LinkedIn profile at a meeting of the Launch Pad job club in Austin on Aug. 6, 2014.

Baby boomers have dominated the work force for decades, but now they’re fighting to stay in it as they live longer and can’t afford to live off of their savings in retirement.

Older job seekers have a hard time finding jobs – even in Austin.  Experts, however, say the growing aging population is one reason for hope.

Take Bill Hodges – he waited until the age of 57 to move to Austin, with no job prospects and dreams of a new life.

"I am a transplant, or a person who has moved recently from South Dakota," Hodges says, adding that he moved to Austin because of the possibility of a job.

"Just a change of pace from the country life and now I live in the big city," says Hodges, who retired from the Air Force at 38 and hasn’t worked for some 20 years. All that time he lived near the Black Hills of South Dakota, but four months ago he moved to Austin where life is far more expensive.

He’s pretty eager to get a job, but he’s never written a resume in his life. So he sat in the front row of a workshop called “Overcoming Barriers to Success” at Workforce Solutions Capital Area.

"I have not actually went out and looked for a job for years so I’m having to relearn the entire experience," he says.

Like Hodges, 58-year-old Ali Williams is also getting help finding a job. Williams, a Louisiana transplant, has been looking for steady work since 2012.

"I’ve had some jobs, temp agencies. But I haven’t gotten a job in my profession that I do, which is commercial tire repair," Williams says.

He’s limited though, because he has diabetes and high blood pressure, so he might have to look into truck driving, he says. Then there’s his criminal record -- he got out of jail in 2012, and that’s not something he can hide, but he’s trying to conceal his age as much as he can.

"I have gray hair and if I have a mustache it would be gray," he says. "That’s why I’m clean shaven and I have relative short hair, I have no hair. That would give the appearance of a younger person than if you see me with my hair all over my head."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2013, people 55 to 64 in Texas had an unemployment rate of almost 5 percent. People 65 and older – 3.5 percent. While older workers are more likely to be employed, those who quit or lose their jobs are likely to have a much harder time finding a new one.

Job coaches say, however, that older people don’t just need to update their look to improve their chances. They’ve got to think about little things – like getting a Gmail account, not AOL.

"All you need is a phone number and an email address," said Kathy Lansford, giving resumé tips recently to members of her Austin job club called Launch Pad. "If you want to put LinkedIn on there, that’s OK but you don’t need a physical address. Who has home phones? Old people!"

Lansford, who also teaches at Workforce Solutions, tells her students to avoid talking like an older person, too.

"'I worked on computers when they were the size of this room.' Who says that? Old people say that. Don’t talk like that," Lansford recommends. "'When I was your age, back in my day.' No, you have to speak with energy about all the things you learning and you’re excited about the opportunity and all the skills you picked up."

On top of all these tips, older job seekers need to overcome the shame, too.

"The average length of time a person stays on the job today is three years," Lansford says. "So they quit, they leave, they go, they find something else. They work freelance. If they’re not working it’s not a big deal. Older people are stigmatized -- they have a harder time networking because of that."

What's more, employers can also be judgmental of this population.

Richard Johnson is a senior fellow at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. He says employers make false assumptions about them.

"One is, there’s a widespread belief out there that older workers are simply too expensive," Johnson says. "That they’re going to demand much higher wages than a younger person and they’re going to incur higher health care costs."

Two, employers fear they’re not as tech savvy, and three, they think older workers won’t stick around for long.

The U.S. – and certainly Texas – has an aging population, and Johnson says that’s the silver lining.

"That’s really going to force employers to pay more attention to this demographic," Johnson says. "If we look at the total population ages 22 to 69, look at the growth of that population over the next 10 years, two-thirds of all the growth in all that population is going to come from people 62 and older."

So, he adds, employers can’t only rely on young workers to meet their staffing needs.  

That gives hope to 60-year-old Nancy Ruiz from Austin. She’s been unemployed for about a year. She used to recruit patients to work with medical and nursing students and she loved that work.

"I have done jobs that haven’t been a good match, and life is too short to do something you really don’t like," Ruiz says. "But at some point you may have to do that for a while to pay the bills."

Especially when you’re not married and living off of a savings account. Dorothea Young is 64 and was laid off six years ago. She found herself caring full-time for her dying partner. Also her parents died so she left to  Germany for some time, but now she’s going to a number of job clubs and has no plans to give up.

"I thrive on contact with people," Young says. "I thrive on getting things done. Give me a challenge and I’ll run with it. It’s a passion to be needed and to have knowledge and to have more knowledge and keep building it and not just going somewhere and whimpering and staying at home."

Young says staying at home is the one thing that just won't do.

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