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Votes

Retirement Could Require More Work

Older workers work past retirement age for many reasons.

As the Baby Boomer generation moves into retirement years and younger generations start taking over the job market, many seniors in the work force find their age — once equated with experience — now identifies them as the new minority.

"Baby Boomers are now unemployable," said Mary Alice Butler-Brown, executive program manager for Senior Services of Alexandria. "Our applicants aren't all retirees, they're people who were laid off after 9/11, who were aged out of positions and are now seeking to earn a living."

Butler-Brown said Senior Services was founded 18-years ago with the intentions to serve seniors in the area through the employment of people 55-years and up — primarily as something for them to do once they hit retirement age — as well as offer in-home care to seniors.

Now she said there are seniors applying for work because they need to meet increasing economic demands, not because they want to fill their retirement days.

"We're now finding that social security is just not enough," said Butler-Brown. "Especially in this area, the cost of living is so high that people can't afford to live day to day."

Based on a 2002 survey by the Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging, there were 35.6 million seniors, or persons 65-years or older, representing 12 percent of the country's population.

The survey estimates that by 2030 there will be about 71.5 million older persons in the country, or almost double the amount of seniors there were in 2000.

"IT SEEMS TO ME there are a lot of older seniors looking for work," said Margaret Watt, 59. "A lot of jobs around town — in the last few years — have laid off a lot of 50-year olds and up, these are still young people, and basically they need jobs."

Watt, who was placed by Senior Services into her current position as a customer service coordinator for Prudential-Carruthers Realtors in Alexandria, said she knew of one friend who had to move from the area because she could not find work and could not afford the increasing cost of living in the region.

"We have people who have worked for the government who were downsized and are now looking for a job," said Butler-Brown, adding some of their clients in similar situations may not have enough in retirement to technically retire, so they have to work.

She said because many of their clients are, or were once professionals, they try to place them in positions where their skills will be utilized.

"We try to place them back in the job market where they can earn a living," said Butler-Brown, adding for some it's a hard transition. "Number one, being a senior and being out of the job market after maybe 21-years then forced into the job market, they find it difficult."

Another major difficulty seniors face is that they are no longer desirable hires, even though they may possess more qualified traits than some of their younger competitors, said Butler-Brown.

"It's the underlying thing," she said about age. "They don't want to hire them because they do not fit into that group — older workers are the new minority."

Charles Bell, managing broker for Prudential-Carruthers Realtors in Alexandria, said he prefers using seniors for his temporary positions.

"Seniors are punctual, you can count on them completely," said Bell. "We tried filling with younger folks, but we have troubles with people being absent, showing up late — I've never had a problem with the seniors."

Bell has used the organization about five times over the last three years; all of his temporary hires have been seniors — with some becoming permanent employees.

"It gives seniors a position," said Bell about another reason he hires seniors. "I know a lot of times it's hard to find a position out there."

Watt, who was a part-time temporary hire and has now become a full-time permanent employee, said she was looking for work that would offer benefits.

"I went down for work and in two days they had me in the market, but it's hard to find work if you're over a certain age," she said, adding age shouldn't be what employers look at. "It doesn't matter how old you are, as long as you have the skills."

She said she thinks seniors have more to offer to employers because of varying skills, they are able to be trained by companies if necessary and often have a better concept of team spirit than their younger competitors.

BUTLER-BROWN AGREED there are many factors that make seniors more desirable than the incoming generations, but sometimes companies overlook that.

"One thing is, we won't have babies," joked Butler-Brown about one definite advantage seniors have. "Number one we're dependable, two maturity, three wisdom — what they're getting in one little nutshell is what they'd have to build, train and educate someone who is younger."

Butler-Brown said her company has seen almost triple the amount of seniors applying for temporary work this year than in the past, adding as the "only business in this area of this caliber," she hopes they will be able to help as many seniors as possible, but ultimately she believes something needs to be done.

"It is a red-flag situation," she said. "Soon we're going to be in a situation where the elderly are not being taken care of."