How to help a senior who can't find a job
September 15, 2016 12:53 PM   Subscribe

My friend Jenna (alias), a 62-year old woman, very smart and capable, lost her cashier job of 30-some years about a year ago. She's freaking out and has asked me for help. Now I'm freaking out!

Since her job loss Jenna found a part-time gig that pays $1800 a month. Her house payment, though, is $1600 a month. That obviously doesn't leave much for food, transportation, medication, pet care, etc.

Jenna's been traumatized by the circumstances around the ending of her previous job. She had been there for decades, when a new manager was hired and apparently had a personality issue with her. He made her life hell and then fired her. She found another part-time gig but isn't making it financially. She always wanted to work for a luxury jewelry retailer, so I helped her update her resume and she applied to a few of those kinds of stores recently, in two different cities. Unfortunately she didn't get any of the gigs.

Jenna told me that during interviews she always talks about how horrible this former manager was to her, and how hurt she's been over the termination. I told her not to mention any of that in future, and keep it positive -- to just say, "It was a great place to work for a long time, but I'm on a new path now," or whatever. She just repeats that it's really important to her to tell this story of how she was horribly mistreated to every new job prospect. I really think it's part of what's sinking her in these interviews, but I can't seem to get her to change her mind about it.

I live in Washington State, where I know there are lots of resources for seniors. I want to hook her up with some, but I'm not sure where to begin. Some things she has ruled out already. I found a service that helps you sell your home, and if there's a discrepancy between what you get for it and what the bank needs, they pay that for you. But she won't sell her house or think of relocating. I've asked her about getting a roommate. She'd rather not, but she thinks she can refinance her house.

I imagine you'd have to look pretty good to the bank in order to do this, right? It's essentially a new mortgage. I understand you need to have at least 20% equity in the home, but she isn't sure about that. And since she's behind on her bills, has terrible credit, and only has a part-time job, I'm wondering if these things are going to torpedo her refinancing prospects.

She's raided her 401k and her savings. She doesn't have a safety net anymore, and I'm worried about her. I've asked her whether she belonged to any unions or professional associations when she had the cashier job. She said yes, so I'm going to pursue those leads. I'm also contacting food programs like SNAP and other programs geared to seniors on her behalf. She'll have to provide details herself, but I want to just get the ball rolling.

If she'll accept it, I'm going to start sending her care packages because I want her not to go without food or dog food.

Is there anything else I should be doing? If anyone is familiar with programs for the needy or seniors in Washington State, I'd like to hear about them.
posted by cartoonella to Work & Money (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
At 62, she is eligible for social security, but she will receive less per month at this age than if she waited. However, given her circumstances, this is worth considering.

Also, did she apply for unemployment benefits after she was fired?
posted by she's not there at 12:59 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Apply for SNAP asap. With only $200 left after paying her mortgage, the application may be fast-tracked. (Based on how things are handled in IL, anyway. YMMV.)
posted by she's not there at 1:02 PM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Is there a community center (or equivalent) nearby that offers free senior social services? Around here we have places where seniors can just drop in and say "I have a problem with..." and they have a bunch of resources to at least point them in the right direction (e.g. a free interview skills class.) If she's a member of a religion or ethnicity or something along those lines, it might be done through that. My grandparents regularly used one that was part of the local Jewish center.
posted by griphus at 1:04 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

She might be eligible for a reverse mortgage, which from what I understand is less dependent on her own credit than her equity in the house. But, the bank would pretty much get the house when she leaves it. I've never run the numbers (my impression is that in the grand scheme of things its generally a bad deal) but getting rid of a $1600 mortgage payment is huge. You could help research reputable options for that for her.

I think you also need to brace yourself for the fact that you can only help her to the extent that she is willing to be helped. The fact that she's pretty much out and out sabotaging her job interviews is worrying to me. It doesn't help that she's also reticent to make changes that could really help her out (relocation, getting a roommate, etc).

So, as much as you can try to "get the ball rolling" for her and put her in touch with services and the like, the details of your question make me think that she may not be willing to take the necessary next steps. If you are willing to offer this help even with the knowledge that it may be for naught, certainly feel free to do it.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:04 PM on September 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

Jenna could maybe use some mental health care in addition to concrete food and shelter sorts of stuff. Her stickiness on the bad past job stuff as well as her inability to consider viable options should be seen as a bit of a red flag that there may be something else going on. So a few things

- food stamps STAT. If she qualifies, this is fast and will really help
- senior center lunches? look into what is in her area, this is socialization time as well as low-to-no cost meals
- sliding scale therapy to help her work on her past job issues script "Jenna I know you have a lot of unresolved feelings about your past job but I think they're getting in the way of your job search. Maybe there's someone else you can talk to about that stuff to work on it who isn't me or a potential employer"
- there might be vocational rehab opportunities available to her for some classes and/or retraining. Seconding: if she wasn't fired, did she ever collect unemployment
- if not, even "learn computers" type classes at the library may help her pad out her resume so that she's seen as more capable than just someone with a cashier past. Plus: socialization

And last: boundaries for you. You have offered constructive suggestions as well as real-world assistance but if she'd "rather not" get a roommate (a decision adult people can make, sure) it shouldn't mean you are going way out on a limb to compensate for that decision of hers. I wish you luck working through this.
posted by jessamyn at 1:17 PM on September 15, 2016 [29 favorites]

Jenna's had the same job for almost four decades? How did she get that job, maybe by having a friendly chat with a manager? She's probably aligned herself with that organization and not only can't not take her leaving personally, but is having to adapt to 2016 interviewing practices, which are a minefield for people who haven't interviewed in ten years, never mind almost 40.

If she wants to work, it may well do her good to talk through this trauma with people - just not her interviewers. People her age and younger. Maybe there are resources for job-hunting particular to people having to negotiate these cultural shifts? Local workshops or job-hunting clubs, maybe? If she sees lots of evidence - in a few places and ways - of how *different* things are these days, the message may sink in.

Sounds like she does need to talk this story out, though. It must be so hard to have been let go after 30+ years of service, in a job she took with the expectation she had value (unlike those of us who know from experience how disposable we are, and that we re supposed to transform ourselves every 10 months).

(Beyond that, most people try to find something to like about their jobs, and get attached to bits of them (see Studs Terkel's book, Working) . I know I once spent a week on a handover book that it became my *mission* to share, even though I didn't much like the job. We invest ourselves in our work, like it or not. Lots of loss for your friend, lots to learn. But I bet she can.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:23 PM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Good suggestions, thanks guys!
posted by cartoonella at 1:33 PM on September 15, 2016

The Department of Labor (?) or some other Federal Agency grants out a program specifically designed to help seniors find work. It's administered by different non-profit in different places. The AARP Foundation (which is a connected to but different than the AARP) administers the program in several places (DC, New York, Florida). You could call them and ask about the program in general. They should be able to tell you who runs it in WA state.

The program places people in volunteer positions and then pays the participant, among other things.
posted by OmieWise at 1:37 PM on September 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Sorry, should have just searched first. In WA it's run by the Dept of Social Services at this link.

The name of the program federally is Senior Community Service Employment Program.
posted by OmieWise at 1:39 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think her immediate problems go beyond just finding work. Why is she applying for dream jobs in other cities if she's paying a mortgage that expensive where she is now? She'd have to sell her house if she got the job, right? What if she sells now, and moves to a cheaper place? If she reduces her overhead, the part-time income would go further. And at 62, landing a dream job with a big jewelry firm with no experience may be beyond her. She may need to be a little more realistic in her job search.

Oh, and definitely look into assistance for her immediate needs. She's eligible for Social Security, so that would supplement her current income and help considerably while she looks for something else. You're allowed to work and still collect SS after a certain age!
posted by jhope71 at 1:43 PM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would say this: "Your situation is getting desperate, you need a new job, and you're only going to hurt yourself in interviews by saying negative stuff about your previous employer. They're looking for somebody upbeat and positive and they'll only see the problems from your previous job as baggage. As bad as things were at your last job, you have to only talk about the good stuff. It sucks, but that's just how job interviews work, for everybody." Don't budge on that point. As long as she keeps talking about how her previous employer mistreated her, she's probably not going to get hired somewhere else.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:22 PM on September 15, 2016 [13 favorites]

Employers look at risk much more intently than job-seekers realize. Jenna can make herself potentially more valuable by thinking about - and being prepared to talk about - how she can reduce risk. With experience as a cashier, for example, she might talk about ...

- The ability to deal quickly and efficiently with ALL sorts of personalities
- Reliability that comes from doing a good job day after day, after day, after ...
- Adaptability that comes from there not being a complaint or complication she hasn't seen and dealt with

Employers are unaccustomed to hearing interviewees talk about reducing risk. Jenna will come off as very refreshing, and that may be enough to get a good offer.
posted by John Borrowman at 3:01 PM on September 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

Ugh. If it's super important that she tell the story of being mistreated, you might at least be able to get her to frame it in a way that isn't horrible and doesn't make her sound resentful and bitter. I'd almost wonder if you can do a mock interview with her and find some alternative ways of phrasing things, or figure out what else she might be doing to torpedo the interviews?
posted by phoenixy at 4:50 PM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Have her read Ask A about why she really cannot say anything negative about her previous employer.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:36 PM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Poor Jenna. It's such a different world now than it was back when she was hired. I think helping her cope with the trauma more constructively would help, as would getting her access to job training and connections while shoring up her basic needs.

Perhaps there is a way to process the trauma through therapy, re-enacting the event, intentionally re-framing it ("I wanted to leave anyway" "I was ready for a new adventure, though I didn't realize it at the time"), or just doing something ritualistic to say goodbye and get the closure and honor she didn't get at the time. Could you help with a ritual or access to medical services? Could you sit with her and go through some reframing exercises? Or can you find her old coworkers, people who valued her, and have them throw her a retirement party? -- if not them, perhaps you and some friends? Could the larger company send her a fruit basket and thank you card (something formal-looking)? I wouldn't do this as an ongoing offering, but you could try one or a few things, then see what she finds value in and encourage her to keep going with whatever that is. Human connection and validation can help exist with pain even if you can't fix the things that happened. She likely had 30 years of built-up expectations of the gratitude she'd get upon leaving her job.

Is there something she can do to feel productive and valuable, like mentoring or volunteering? Volunteering can be a good way to also build up skills.

People from different generations learned to source and trust information differently. It's possible that she's more used to trusting authoritative experts. Your advice is good, but what do you know? You aren't (in her mind) a job expert. Maybe she'd hear this information better from another source, like a job coach; you could offer to pay for a session or two. In our state we also have Workforce Centers where you can take free classes, use computers to job search, and network. There might be organizations that help women gain workforce skills (we have them in my community). Driving her to classes or helping with costs here and there will move you from the "nag" seat to the "fascinated supporter" seat. It can also feel good to learn and do something proactive. She may have some ideas that come out as she learns more about the options.

There is a balance where you don't want her to just be completely depressed about her prospects, but it is helpful for her to be sufficiently worried to take action.

In terms of basic needs, yes, have her get on SNAP. Maybe you and she can go talk to a social worker. It is better if she can work a few more years so she can get more money in retirement (I think--it would be good to examine this). I hope she will consider a roommate and other housing options. If she hasn't, she could write out her financial commitments and sketch out the next few years, coming to the point at which she cannot afford to live in her home (if nothing changes)--if that motivates her to do something. If you can do it without breaking her down, help her see the future so she can game-plan for influencing it. It is her future, after all. But it might take her some time to grasp hold of it.

I agree bringing up her grievance at job interviews is likely hurting her. My initial thought was that she might think it'll help her avoid that happening again, and that it will put people on her side. She is maybe thinking that her potential employers are thinking about things like decency and civility when they're mainly thinking about the bottom line and getting a job done. If she doesn't change her rhetoric she will struggle to get a job!

For you, perhaps you can look into some caregiver support programs and consider chatting with an expert on Jenna's generation; maybe they'd have thoughts on how to support her.

Best wishes to you guys!
posted by ramenopres at 5:43 PM on September 15, 2016

If there are any job-training services offered by the local unemployment office, including interviewing classes/workshops, it would be very beneficial for her to take them. She might not be willing to hear "Don't talk about how bad your former employer was during an interview" from you, but she may be willing to hear it from an objective authority.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:49 PM on September 15, 2016

She just repeats that it's really important to her to tell this story of how she was horribly mistreated to every new job prospect. I really think it's part of what's sinking her in these interviews, but I can't seem to get her to change her mind about it.

It's fair enough that it's really important to her to tell this story but her interviewers are NOT the ones to tell it too. Therapy to deal with it would be good but if that's not an option, does she have a minister she could talk to? Other friends? The dog? She needs to get it out of her system but to literally anyone other than potential new employers.
posted by kitten magic at 5:58 PM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

"She had been there for decades, when a new manager was hired and apparently had a personality issue with her."

As someone who works in staffing, what I'm hearing here is that she did what a great deal of older workers do. She wanted to do it the way she was used to, and didn't want try a new way. A LOT of older workers get fired this way. When I train people over 50, I can't tell you how many times I've heard... "Oh, I'm too old for this." or "It's fine. I don't need to use this feature or learn this." They just want to do it the way they've been doing it since 1980 or 1990 and that's that. Well guess what? If you insist on not learning new trends you'll simply be replaced by someone new who won't complain so much.

Of course I wasn't there so I know it's possible the Manager was simply a jerk and there might be nothing more to it, but my experiences make me wary when I'm told an older worker couldn't adjust their 'attitude' for a new (most likely much younger) manager.

" She just repeats that it's really important to her to tell this story of how she was horribly mistreated to every new job prospect. I really think it's part of what's sinking her in these interviews, but I can't seem to get her to change her mind about it."

...and you still believe her when she says it was the manager's fault that she was fired? Or do you realize that he probably didn't have a choice in the matter? If she's THAT insistant and stubborn to the point where she's willing to even starve herself so that she can yap about how she was right and the manager was wrong... how different do you think it was when she WASN'T in such a desperate situation? It definitely does appear that she indeed does have a personality problem and can be difficult to work with at times. Maybe she was fine spending 30 years at the place when she was able to do things the same way as always, but when a new person came in and wanted to update things she got all stubborn and higher than though- so she was kicked to the curb and replaced.

To me it seems that your friend isn't being realistic. Ageism is the biggest "ism" in staffing. It is a huge problem that no one in our government seems to be too interested in tackling. I meet people all the time that are over 50 who are quick, full of vitality and positivity, and up to date in technology- and even they are difficult to get our clients to take a chance on and hire. The significant number of over 50's out there like your friend who persist and complain that it isn't 15 years ago anymore certainly do NOT make it any easier for those who are older and NOT like this. Your friend doesn't seem to realize that with every passing day the possibility of getting work at that age decreases significantly. At her age things would be tougher regardless. Being one of the older crowd who insists and argues and complains DOES NOT HELP HER. Try to make her understand that her situation is serious and isn't going to get better unless she swallows her pride.
posted by manderin at 7:01 AM on September 16, 2016 [9 favorites]

I wonder if it's worthwhile to be very direct: "You will never be hired for a job if you speak negatively about your former employer." Because she won't.

If it were me, I'd try to say the following: "Jenna, I know you feel wronged by Formeremployer. I know you would like to find a new job. Speaking negatively about your former employer in a job interview is absolutely going to disqualify you in the eyes of the interviewer. Every single time. I'm not saying that's right or fair, it's just what is. I've tried to help you see that, but you don't seem to believe it. I'm happy to help you apply for SNAP or other benefits, but I need to disengage from the topic of new jobs as long as you're intent on handling every interview that way." And then disengage around the job topic.

You can't force Jenna to do what's in her best interests, and you can't force her to be ready to move past the dumb thing she's doing. The best you can do is set a limit with her, so that you're not getting more and more panicked (or resentful) every time she tells you about an interview.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:17 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

If she lives alone, she will not qualify for food stamps. The income limit for one person is $1,276/month. They don't consider your debt load in determining eligibility.

I also sent you a memail with some info.
posted by Michele in California at 9:31 AM on September 16, 2016

I have no idea if this would work in Jenna's situation, but I came across this organization a few years ago and thought it was interesting: Encore.

A senior can apply to be a fellow with them for a limited amount of time, work in non-profits, get paid a stipend, and build a network for use in later job hunting.
posted by bananacabana at 11:47 AM on September 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

Re SNAP: according to the link, housing costs are considered in the calculation.

(N.B. I didn't do the numbers. Perhaps Michele has and has more info for you.)
posted by she's not there at 6:27 PM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

The rules are also different if you are over age 60. She only needs to meet the net limits. So, yeah, check into it.
posted by Michele in California at 6:43 PM on September 16, 2016

Visit a bunch of small businesses in your area. Not franchises, but mom-and-pop type businesses where the owner is significantly involved in day-to-day operations.

Figure out which ones seem to be the most disorganized/frantic/etc. Suggest that they hire you as a receptionist / office assistant.

If you show up presentable and articulate and tell them if they hire you that you can help get them organized, a surprising number of small business owners will hire you on the spot without a formal interview.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:12 PM on September 17, 2016

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