Photo courtesy of AARP
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Unemployment continues to be a major consequence of COVID-19. It’s an issue that’s significantly impacting people in the age group closest to retirement.
Dave Clark has decades of sales management experience with multiple big brand name sporting goods companies. Coronavirus is causing this Columbus man two major roadblocks: many cancelled sports seasons and uncertainty lead to cutbacks in his industry, including his own job loss; and, his age.
“I’m 59 years of age and it's a challenging time right now to try and find a job at 59 years of age,” he said.
A few years ago, Clark says he was “aged out” from a former company he worked at for 16 years.
“It is quite disheartening, just for the fact that I had been there for so long, my sales had increased every single year, double digits, so it wasn't really a matter of performance. They were looking to reduce headcount and a lot of the employees over the age of 50, myself and another soccer specialty rep were also, he was 51, I was 52, my boss was 62 at the time he was let go," he said.
Clark has worked a couple of jobs since then, and now for the first time, he’s trying to navigate unemployment.
“Just to get an interview is challenging enough, and then obviously when they start to do the math and figure out I’m 59 years of age, a lot of times companies don't want to take that chance. I mean, obviously, I don't plan on retiring anytime soon. I enjoy working. I'm good at what I do,” he said.
Clark's story is not unique and this is not a new problem.
AARP Associate State Director for Outreach in Ohio Doug Tayek says the pandemic only made the issue more severe.
“For an older worker who loses their job, it takes them up to three times longer to find a position. And when they do find a new position, it generally doesn't pay what their previous position did or doesn't offer the same benefits, and a lot of times, you know, that's, that's really due to age discrimination,” said Tayek.
A recent AARP study shows that about 30 percent of older workers have lost their income or job because of COVID-19.
Tayek's best advice is to update your resume.
“Eliminating older dates from the resume, or if you have an AOL email, don't list that because it just demonstrates that, that they're an older worker, you know, a lot of the tips that they'll find are sort of how to make their resume age-friendly, age-neutral,” said Tayek.
AARP defines an older worker as anyone ages 50 and up, but the Ohio Department of Aging’s Chief of the Elder Connection Division Ashley Davis says there is some variety on that number, depending on the program.
“Through the Age Discrimination and Employment Act, it applies to an older worker, it applies to employees over the age of 40. So when we consider that baby boomers reached age over the age of 40 around 2004 are just continuing to age, the pool of older workers is going to increase. For programs that we run for employment, such as the Senior Community Services Employment Program, that age is set at 55. And then a lot of our services through the department of aging or area agencies is set at age 60,” said Davis.
One federal government program aimed at helping older job seekers find work is the Senior Community Service Employment Program or SCSEP.
Michelle Simko runs the AARP SCSEP in Cuyahoga County.
“It's an opportunity for people to earn some money so they can put gas in their car, buy bus tickets to go out to find work,” said Simko.
But Simko says the pandemic shut down offices and halted enrollment for what she calls this “best kept secret.”
Another obstacle is the fact that health experts say our older population is the most at-risk for coronavirus.
“I know a lot of our folks who are on the program now are not comfortable getting jobs. So when I assess them every six months and say how you feeling? If I could get you a job today would you take it? You know, they're like, oh, I'm not sure yet, you know I'm, you know, with my, with my health, I don't know if it's, you know, really smart for me to be leaving the house,” said Simko.
On the flip side, a key point is understanding the benefits of a diverse workforce.
“Older workers above 65 is our fastest growing segment of the population for workers. And so, we really need to harness them, we really need to keep them in the workforce, we need to keep them engaged,” said Davis.
"They want to work, they want to continue working, they've had productive careers, and they've in some cases are even, that makes them even more valuable because they've built that experience and they've seen so much and done so much and they want to continue working, and so that's one of the biggest frustrations is to hit those walls and those barriers, you know, because people don't want to hire, quote, unquote, you know, older folks, when really they bring a great deal of value to their employer and that's, that's something that needs to be emphasized and needs to be shared,” said Tayek.
That’s people like Clark. He’s applying for jobs and working toward more interviews, with the hopes of several more years of a professional career.
“Age is a state of mind. I mean, I feel like I could work for another twenty years if I chose to do so and that's not my plan, but obviously I still feel like I'm a valuable employee and asset to a potential company, to try and find the right position and the right fit,” said Clark.
If you are seeking a job, here are some helpful resources: