Seniors caught in crosshairs during job hunt - Your West Valley News: Topstory

Seniors caught in crosshairs during job hunt

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Posted: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 10:19 am

Carlos Holder has worked as a cook, a driver, a custodian and did a stint in the military, but now he’s just searching for any job to make ends meet.

“I’m just looking for anything that can help me,” the Sun City resident said.

Even though nationally and in Arizona, the number of unemployed seniors is fairly low, programs at the Banner Olive Branch Senior Center in Sun City indicate a different issue.

Unemployment rates for people ages 55 to 64 was 5.9 percent in 2009 in Arizona, and the rate for people 65 or older was 8.0 percent; the total unemployment number for Arizona in 2009, however, was 10 percent, according to numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The bills are piling up for me,” Holder said.

Holder said even with retirement benefits, Social Security, and disability checks from Veterans Affairs, it’s still not enough. He’s received some help from Olive Branch, where he visits two or three times a week, but he still needs more money coming in.

Ivy Shirley, the director at Olive Branch, said the job-related programs at the senior center have seen an influx of job seekers in the last few years. The various workshops offered have doubled in attendance, and the twice-yearly job fair draws about 500 people. Beyond that, Shirley said the senior center helps job-seekers who are in their 70s or early 80s, whereas attendees used to be younger.

One such workshop offered last Wednesday gave seniors tips for a successful interview.

About 40 people gathered at Olive Branch to listen to a presentation from Banner Health Recruitment employees Andrea Molina and Bertha Almarez, a follow-up to a resume writing workshop offered earlier this month.

By a show of hands, most of the class was actively looking for a job, but only a few had been granted interviews.

Molina and Almarez reiterated points about the importance of both a clean resume and filling out an employer’s application form, and they told the attendees that dressing professionally and being on time for an interview are key. 

Carol Jankowski, the volunteer coordinator for the workshop and other Olive Branch job programs, said that many seniors are nervous going into an interview because they know they might be at a disadvantage compared to their younger counterparts.

“It can be very hard for an older person to go out there,” she said.

Kim Johnson, also of Sun City, is in a similar situation to Holder. She needs a job to cover the bills Social Security doesn’t.

“When you’re a senior, you’re on your own,” Johnson said, although she calls the staff and volunteers and Olive Branch “angels” who provide meals and have even helped pay utility bills through the center’s need-based programs.

Johnson said since she looks younger than she is, an interview might go well, but it stops there.

“It seems when they find out how old I am, I’m out the door,” she said.

Shirley said Olive Branch doesn’t use any specific statistics when putting together its programs, but instead goes off of the need they see in the community.

For people 55 years of age and older, the Arizona Department of Commerce shows a small drop in the number of claimants of unemployment benefits from August of 2009 to August of 2010.

Carole Corr, an assistant at the senior center who also helped organize the workshops, explained that many of their guests have lost investments and may have even lost their homes.

“We hear a lot of hard luck stories here at the center,” Corr said. “It’s not easy to make ends meet.”

Jankowski explained while some seniors, like Carlos Holder and Kim Johnson, may need to go back to work for financial reasons, some people also just want something to do.

Deanna Neff of Surprise falls into that category.

“I like working with people. I like to do work,” she said after the interview workshop, which she thought was helpful.

While people like Neff are looking for a job to fill their days, others are struggling to pay their bills.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nationally, the number of people in poverty actually declined for seniors 65 and older (from 3.7 million in 2008 to 3.4 million in 2009). That is a change from 9.7 percent in 2008 to 8.9 percent in 2009.

“There’s a lot of need out there,” Jankowski said.

She is also organizing a senior job fair on Oct. 6 at the United Church of Sun City, next door to Olive Branch at 11250 N. 107th Ave. Twelve to fifteen employers looking to hire seniors will be on hand to take resumes and chat with job seekers. 

“People over 55 are more and more in need of employment and there are not a lot of opportunities out there,” Jankowski said.

Contact the Banner Olive Branch Senior Center at 623-974-6797 for more information about the job fair and other job programs.

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