What are the job prospects for people 50+?
July 17, 2013 6:03 PM   Subscribe

I was continuously employed for almost 30 years. I never came close to being fired and was actively pursued by many companies in my field. Less than a year after my 50th birthday I was laid off. That was over 4 years ago and I have been unable to get even an interview since then. I feel like trying to find employment is becoming more futile as time passes. My question is "Have you heard of anybody over 50, out of work for over 4 years being hired in any field? If, as I suspect, the answer is no, then what are my options? I have worked freelance jobs in order to survive, but I have also used up all of my savings during this period. At this point I am way in debt, I have 2 kids going to college, I am unable to afford health insurance and my marriage hangs by a thread. I suffer from depression and my confidence in my skills has been severely shaken. I am not prepared to spend another 20 or 30 years in these circumstances, but what choice do I have?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I am so sorry this is happening to you. I came in only to offer this: My 56-year-old father was severely, severely underemployed in his field for three years, was reaching the point of losing all hope (multiple rejections, serious financial strain, considered leaving his professional field entirely to take a job in pharm sales despite never having worked in sales a day in his life), and he recently landed his dream job in his field. Don't lose heart. Keep chasing down every lead; call those companies that were once actively pursuing you again and again. Use your network of contacts in the field. That's what my dad did, and it eventually paid off. Best of luck to you.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 6:12 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

If your priorities are getting out of debt and having health insurance and other benefits, then a good choice is a unionized civil service job of some type. Yes, they will take over-50's. I work a blue-collar railroad job, hiring is by written exam (many positions only test for high-school literacy skills) and many of the new hires are over 50 and no issue is made of having been unemployed. There are many choices both blue-collar and desk type, and if you're willing to work hard and learn as you go, and are willing to work unconventional hours, no special skills are necessary.
posted by RRgal at 6:17 PM on July 17, 2013 [9 favorites]

When I worked at a robotics startup in my twenties with a bunch of other twentysomethings, when we finally hired a middle-aged man it was with a palpable sense of OH THANK GOD FINALLY AN ADULT relief. He just knew how to do things and solve problems that none of us had ever encountered before.

So maybe try marketing your combined work/life experience to smaller companies needing an employee who can wear multiple hats on the job?
posted by Jacqueline at 6:21 PM on July 17, 2013 [13 favorites]

My mom worked off-and-on for years. Got a job in her field in her mid-50s, after years of being off. At 62 she's still busily moving up the ladder. So it is possible. My mom also has inhuman ambition and drive though.
posted by schroedinger at 6:23 PM on July 17, 2013

I am 50. I just took a job at a state university, low pay, great benefits, 75% off tuition. You might consider state education an option.
posted by jennstra at 6:41 PM on July 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

Mr. Batik, a professional musician, was 52 when he got in a funk and quit performing. He had no marketable skills outside the music world. He worked as a pizza delivery guy (very little $) for a year, then moved to another city, where he could not even get that much. He was homeless for a few months, later on welfare and living in a shelter (Canada). After two years unemployed, He enrolled in a program and trained as a security guard, and was hired and worked steadily until a health event sidelined him at 61. His income was enough to live decently in expensive Vancouver, B.C.

(Now 67, happily retired, and performing again at his leisure).

Don't give up. Go outside the box and try new things. Network. See if there are any agencies in your area that help seniors find employment. Once you get a job, any job, you will be better situated to then work towards something you really want and like.
posted by batikrose at 6:44 PM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Forgot to add, recently divorced and returned to work after 18 years out of paid work force. Work on you, your skills and confidence. Ask for help, making tough decisions is harder when you're down already.
posted by jennstra at 6:45 PM on July 17, 2013

You've worked freelance so you've not been out of work for 4 years. You will also probably need to look well outside of what you've done before and perhaps below what you're more than capable of doing. And network. This is more than likely where your position will come from. And look after your health.
posted by heyjude at 6:48 PM on July 17, 2013

It sounds like it's time to put together a plan. You've been working very hard at regaining the career and standing you had before you turned 50, and it isn't working. Amiright? Now, I don't know what you should do, but you know it's time to do something different. That's why you posted the question, right?

So, think about things like: What's really important to you? A secure income, or being recognized as a leader in your field? If you can't have both, at least not right away, not like it used to be, which appeals to you more? Whatever your answer, the next question is, why is that your first choice and not the other?

Once you've answered those questions, what remains is figuring out what steps you need to take to get where you want to be, and then implementing that plan. I don't mean to minimize this at all: it's very hard work that most people never tackle let alone succeed at.

There are some good ideas upthread, many of which could be promising. But first you have to decide what path you want to follow and then go do it. If you were a leader in your field, and capable of succeeding like that again, you've certainly got the ability to make a decision and then make it happen.
posted by DrGail at 6:50 PM on July 17, 2013

I work at a major insurance company. Our actuarial team hired an individual who I suspect (but would obviously never ask) is in at least his 60s. I don't think he'd done insurance work before, either.
So there's that, if you're mathematically inclined - pass an actuarial exam, and doors will undoubtedly open.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:51 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

My office let go (not for any cause: restructuring) a 65 year old legal case manager last year. He found a similar position within a few weeks and is still at it. I still miss his depth of experience and knowledge that the younger case managers just don't have.
posted by Pomo at 6:52 PM on July 17, 2013

Where do you live? I'm in San Francisco (and I'm guessing this is true of other big American cities) and a lot of the Lyft/Sidecar drivers are regular middle-aged dudes. I don't know exactly how much they make but I think it's decent.

Also I have said this in a lot of threads, but it's worth it to shell out to hire a resume/cover letter coach. They can help you tailor your resume and CL to make yourself more marketable. I imagine that part of the problem is that your resume and CL are stuck in the 1980s (since that's the last time you applied for a job) and things have changed a lot since then. I highly recommend Resume to Interviews, they were a godsend for me.
posted by radioamy at 7:23 PM on July 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

While not a job finding service, encore.org is focused on helping people to develop "encore" or second careers to promote social good. They have fellowships and I think resources on how to start the process, as well as stories and tips from others that may be somewhat helpful. http://www.encore.org/

AARP also has a jobs board that lists potential "second careers." Some are not terribly high paying, but perhaps a good place to look and see what's out there.

posted by HonoriaGlossop at 8:01 PM on July 17, 2013

My father was underemployed/unemployed/out of his field for over 5 years, until last fall. He worked at call centers, as a car salesman, and on the floor at department stores until he saw a job opening in his former field at a company he was familiar with. He networked like hell and got in touch with people still working in his field to get caught up on recent developments, and he got the job. He's about to turn 55. It really was just a matter of waiting for the right job to open up, not self-sabotaging in the application process from nerves or whatever, and leaning on connections he still had in his industry.
posted by MadamM at 8:12 PM on July 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are there any contract jobs in your field? A close family member of mine quit their job more than a year ago (basically to avoid being fired, long story) and now does contract work. The pay isn't great but it keeps them active while they look for another job, and keeps them using their skills. They also interview for a wide range of jobs broadly related to their field, though none of them has been quite right yet. I agree with Jacqueline; I think that at least in my relative's field, having that level of knowledge is valuable, and age has not been a problem (my older family member has had better luck getting interviews than a much younger person I am close to). Good luck!
posted by mlle valentine at 8:13 PM on July 17, 2013

I have a very positive anecdote for you, but it's kind of lengthy, so I hope you'll bear with me.

YES! I have heard of someone over the age of 50 getting a job (a great job they love) after years of unemployment. My mom, actually.

In fact, she'd been homeless for a few months and had been in a harsh subsistence mode for a while before that. She came up to the city I'm in from the one she was in and was so beaten down, so ragged, so shaken...I honestly didn't know if we could make a good thing happen. But, obviously, we had to try. She was 59.

First off, I got her to go to the local senior center, because she needed some help with ID and that kind of thing. They also got her involved with some short-term free counseling and computer classes (she already knew some things from having worked in offices over the years, but she was a few years out of date, technology-wise).

Then I sent her to Workforce Solutions/Worksource (depends on what state you're in as to what the name is), where she was immediately in contact with an AARP volunteer in the Resource Room of the center she chose. They helped her get a profile set up in the state job bank and she ended up becoming a paid, part-time volunteer in the same program as the person who helped her. As she worked in the center, she had a chance to show all of the skills she had, and when a case management job came up, they offered it to her.

Now she's been there for around five years and is one of their most valued employees, if not THE most valued employee (no hyperbole - you should see the awards she gets!), and she's constantly pursuing new knowledge to keep it that way.

Since you're under the age where AARP will help (I'm pretty sure, anyway - I think 55 is when they want us), I would say to do two things:

1) Go to the Workforce Solutions/Worksource website for your area (search on those terms + city or state) and find out where the nearest center is located. Some also have calendars for group classes for resumes, interviews, job search strategies, and other help. Most are linked to a state job board, so look on the site for a place to create a profile. If the center has a resource room (computer and other business tools area), you can often just head on down and talk to someone at the front desk about tweaking your profile and seeing what other help they might be able to offer, considering your situation - most require that you do have a profile before making use of the center's resources. Some of the programs that are available include WIA and others that allow for education, supplies, and an amazing assortment of need-fulfilling, so it's worth going on a number of levels. Many also have job clubs with good networking opportunities.

2) Volunteer.

Whatever you do, I wish you luck & good fortune! May the right people notice you doing the right things!
posted by batmonkey at 9:05 PM on July 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

I too came in here to praise the value of networking.

In June of 2012 the agency I had been with for nearly 30 years announced it was closing its doors due to funding issues. I spent from June until the next May exploring options, applying for postions, etc. The issue was finally solved by 1. thinking outside the box in terms of postions I would be interested in and, 2. Networking...

The position I landed happened ONLY because I was recommended by an employee of that firm who knew me, there is no doubt in my mind that there were many applicants that were as well qualified, and perhaps even better qualified.

posted by HuronBob at 7:27 AM on July 18, 2013

I do communications for a solar power company, and almost all of our sales reps are in their fifties or sixties. This is intentional. People are more likely to dismiss new technology as being a fad or smoke-and-mirrors when the pitch comes from a young person.

For this reason, I'd really look into tech startups. I can't tell you how happy many startups would be to have their product presented by a business-savvy 54-year-old in a sharp suit.
posted by 256 at 7:57 AM on July 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Actually, AARP will help get you back to work if you're at least 50—so you should get in touch with your local AARP branch and join the organization. My mother worked part-time at a local career center through AARP. When you're staffed through AARP, it's like temping—you're paid something like minimum wage, but it's a great way to get active and out of the house and network a bit, and it can lead to other opportunities. Give them a call!
posted by limeonaire at 2:52 PM on July 18, 2013

Go to the Workforce Solutions/Worksource website for your area (search on those terms + city or state) and find out where the nearest center is located.

These employment centers can also be called One-Stop Career Centers, American Job Centers, and countless other names. Information on them is centralized by the U.S. Department of Labor at America's Service Locator. It may be easier to find your local office by looking there instead of using a search engine.
posted by potential lunch winner at 3:17 PM on July 18, 2013

« Older I need a really good online shopper or a shoemaker...   |   Metaphors for the idea of America Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.