MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
When it comes to finding a job, the economy isn't making it easy on anyone. Fourteen million Americans are out of work. Well, one group that's finding job hunting to be especially hard is older workers.
From member station KUT in Austin, Texas, Matt Largey reports.
MATT LARGEY, BYLINE: Jerri Newton comes to the Goodwill Job Center in Austin a few times a week for computer classes.
JERRI NEWTON: Hi, good morning.
LARGEY: Good morning.
NEWTON: I'm sorry. It's kind of embarrassing. I had to roll up pennies to get gas in my car.
LARGEY: Jerri is 50 years old. It's been more than two years since she lost her job at a resort. She didn't qualify for unemployment benefits so she and her husband, who's also out of work, have survived off savings and help from Jerri's sister-in-law.
NEWTON: She saved our lives, so to speak.
LARGEY: Jerri is in a special class of people, and not in a good way. Last month, there were more than 2 million Americans 55 and older looking for work. Workers in that age group are less likely to be laid off. But those who do lose their jobs tend to be out of work far longer than younger workers. In Jerri's case, she says she's applied for at least 200 jobs in the past two years. Two hundred job openings, and no luck.
NEWTON: It's hard, being kicked down, going into these places and them saying no, not this week; no, no, no. It's hard being - pursuing all the time, and getting the same answer.
LARGEY: After two years of no, Jerri landed an interview at a big, retail chain store. It's part time, minimum wage, not ideal. But it's something.
NEWTON: Right now, I'm looking for a right-now job.
LARGEY: That's a new thing for Jerri. She held her last job for six years. The one before that, eight years.
Michael Sanchez is Jerri's placement specialist at the Goodwill Job Center. He says Jerri's generation...
MICHAEL SANCHEZ: The generation that is in their 50s and 60s...
LARGEY: ...believed in working one or two jobs their entire lives.
SANCHEZ: ...work for 20, 25, 30 years and retire. And, I think, never in a million years did they expect to be in their 50s, job searching and starting all over again.
NEWTON: Do you want it on speaker phone?
LARGEY: No, no, no, no.
LARGEY: A few days after Jerri's interview at that retail store, she calls to follow up. She's hoping to hear that she got the job.
NEWTON: Hi. Can I please speak with Rosie? After 5. OK. All right, I will check back with her then. Thank you.
LARGEY: Job-search experts say the biggest hurdle for older workers is often technology. Applying online is a lot different than going door-to-door with a resume, but some older people say there's discrimination out there, too.
JIM CALLAHAM: When I walk into an interview, if the person interviewing me is a 20-something-year-old, my heart tends to drop a little bit.
LARGEY: Jim Callaham is in his late 60s.
CALLAHAM: Because the chances of a 20-something-year-old hiring their granddad is small.
LARGEY: Both Jerri and Jim have been out of work for two years or more. Statistically, the longer a person is unemployed, the harder it is to find a new job. Apply that to someone who's 50 or 60.
RICHARD JOHNSON: And that creates the real possibility that a lot of these people, you know, may never work again.
LARGEY: Richard Johnson is a senior fellow at the Urban Institute.
JOHNSON: And that has tremendous implications for their ability to make ends meet today, but it's also going to really harm their future retirement incomes.
NEWTON: Someone my age, the money that's being spent on my house right now and keeping me from being homeless, will probably be the money that we were going to retire on.
LARGEY: And at a time when government services for people of all ages are being eyed for cuts, people in Jerri's situation might have fewer places to turn for help in the future.
(SOUNDBITE OF VOICEMAIL)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You have one new voice message.
LARGEY: But Jerri's story doesn't quite end there. She tried back the manager at that store where she interviewed. I got this message on my voicemail later that day.
(SOUNDBITE OF VOICEMAIL)
NEWTON: Hi, Matt. It's Jerri Newton. I'm sorry to call you so late. Just wanted to let you know that I did get the job. And I'm excited about that, and I'm ready to go to work. Bye-bye.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: End of message.
LARGEY: Within a couple of weeks, though, Jerri's hours were cut way back, forcing her to go back to the hunt for a new job.
For NPR News, I'm Matt Largey in Austin, Texas.
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