Training Program Helps Older Workers Find Jobs
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This recession has hit older workers especially hard. About two million people, age 55 and over, are looking for jobs. That's more than doubled what it was at this time in 2008.
NPR's Andrea Hsu traveled to Central Pennsylvania to where a government-funded program is helping older workers find jobs.
Ms. DOROTHY MANUEL(ph) (Field Coordinator, Experience Works): See, when I look at something like this, this is peaceful.
ANDREA HSU: Sixty-two year old Dorothy Manuel is driving past cornfields and old barns in her Buick sedan. She travels these roads every day as part of her job.
Ms. MANUEL: I didn't think, this time in my life, that I would have to go back to work. I thought this was going to be a time when I would be able to just kick back and relax. But things happen.
HSU: Four years ago, Manuel's husband had to quit his job in building maintenance because of poor health. She used to groom dogs and clean houses, but a bad back and bad knees put an end to that.
Ms. MANUEL: Your mind says you can do anything, but your body says no, you can't. And that's hard.
HSU: Fortunately, she has a job that's a bit easier on the body. She's a field coordinator for Experience Works. That's a nonprofit funded by the U.S. Department of Labor to give low income people 55 and up the skills they need to find work. The program was established by the Johnson administration for displaced farmers. Now it helps all kinds.
Four years ago, as her money was running out, Dorothy Manuel signed up for the program and got trained. She's now working to help others, placing them in internships around the state.
(Soundbite of keyboard)
Ms. SUSAN FREERS (Employee, United Way): United Way.
HSU: She found 59 year-old Sharon Freers(ph) a place at the United Way of Franklin County. Freers answers phones, helps with giving campaigns and updates the office's Facebook page. For that, she gets a minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, paid by the Department of Labor - no health care. It's meant to be a stepping-stone toward a more permanent position. Freers had work for 30 years. She ran a business with her husband, a violin maker in Upstate New York.
Ms. FREERS: I thought I would be doing that for the rest of my life. Yeah.
HSU: But then she got divorced. She moved to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania to be closer to her sister, applied for clerical jobs, and was turned down. She came to this conclusion...
Ms. FREERS: I'm as smart as I think I am, but not as experienced as I thought I was.
HSU: Freers hopes her new computer skills will make her more attractive to employers.
Field coordinator Dorothy Manuel also hopes Susan Freers finds long-time work. In the past year, only about 10 of the 75 or so people Manuel oversees have gotten jobs. Another 20 had to leave the internship program for medical reasons.
(Soundbite of crying child)
HSU: An hour north at the Perry County Literacy Council, people can take GED and computer classes or get a reading tutor. Dorothy Manuel has placed two people here: a custodian and a receptionist. The help is welcomed. In the past couple years, they've seen an influx of older folks from nearby manufacturing plants that have shut down, people like Clifford Balkman(ph), who made automobile carpet for more than 30 years.
Mr. CLIFFORD BALKMAN: We made a carpet, tufted it, then we back it and then mold it, and ship it to the car factories.
HSU: Like many at the plant, Balkman never finished high school. Still, he was making a good living, $18.50 an hour, when the plant closed in December 2008.
Mr. BALKMAN: I was heartbroken, discouraged and I'd been there all pretty near all my life - since after high school, anyway.
HSU: Balkman spent the past year and a half getting his GED and a commercial driver's license. He hopes for a second career in trucking.
Mr. BALKMAN: I got about 15, 20 years to go before I retire.
HSU: Dorothy Manuel says that's typical of older workers. She wants to keep working until she dies.
Andrea Hsu, NPR News.
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