CFL News
November 10, 2011

Boomers gone bust: Older workers reinvent selves for new economy

Facing tough competition, older displaced workers are taking new approaches to reentering the job market, according to the Chicago Federation of Labor Workers Assistance Committee

Source: Cicero Life

By Staff reports

When 57-year-old Berwyn resident Paul Jimenez was laid off from his job as regional circulation manager in November of last year, the career he had virtually ceased to exist.

After 35 years, the Chicago Sun-Times had outsourced its printing to the Chicago Tribune, and with only a handful of other large-circulation newspapers in the area and no remaining jobs near his home, Jimenez found himself with staggeringly few options.

“As far as work goes, it was bye-bye,” Jimenez said.

Like many area residents his age, he had little choice but to reinvent himself.

With unemployment in Cook County on the rise again and nearing 11 percent, everyday people are still struggling with a downtrodden economy.

Among the hardest hit in Cook County are people over age 50, said Eileen Vesey, program director at the Chicago Federation of Labor’s Worker’s Assistance Committee, a job-training agency in Westchester. Once in stable, blue-collar jobs that no longer exist, many area residents in the twilight of their prime years have found themselves out of work.

“It's a lot tougher, from what we've seen, for people coming from traditionally blue-collar jobs that were stable,” Vesey said. “It seems to be taking them a lot longer to find employment.”

Often, they're replaced with younger people who work for less and have higher qualifications, such as bachelor's degrees. In other cases, a job that once required little training suddenly becomes a complicated, computer-based task, Vesey said.

Despite the hardship and what has become nearly a year of unemployment, Jimenez remains a proud man with an urgent sense of optimism. He's more than halfway through a 6-month program offered by the Community and Economic Development Agency of Cook County (CEDA) that will train him as an enrolled agent with the IRS — a career that has a median income of more than $42,000 year, according to the Illinois Tax Training Institute, which provides the teachers for the CEDA classes.

“This is the land of opportunity and I've always been geared towards motivating yourself. It makes a lot of things possible,” Jimenez said. “I've always put that direction towards my children — to try to get the best they can out of life by getting a formal education.”

One of the appeals of being an enrolled agent with the IRS is the flexibility it provides, said Jimenez. He can go into business for himself, work from home and even take his career with him if he decides to retire to warmer climes, such as Florida.

That kind of flexibility can also help people who are looking to find work, added Leticia Romero, an employment specialist with CEDA.

“You really have to be creative in terms of how you want to go back into the workforce,” Romero said. “A lot of people are also trying to do their own thing, like cleaning houses.”

Vesey said finding ways to update skills and keep busy can be vital for job seekers. Some job seekers have even taken to volunteer positions and internships just to get their foot in the door or have something current to put on a resume and discuss during a job interview.

“Companies are getting so swamped with applications that they're not even posting their jobs publicly,” Vesey added.

Although Yolanda Lauppe of La Grange never got a high school diploma, she didn’t have trouble finding a job until recently.

“I’ve been working all of my life. I've probably had over 20 jobs in my life,” said Lauppe, 50. “I think if we were not in such a bad downfall right now, I think I would be very marketable because I have the skills.”

Lauppe had managed to find a temp-to-hire position in customer service, but was passed over for a younger person who recently had graduated from college.

“It's kind of discouraging to see somebody else got my job when I worked all the time and I had praises from all my clients,” she said. “When it came down to the bottom line, they'd didn't care, and that was kind of hurtful.”

Like Jimenez, Lauppe is hoping to reinvent herself. She's taking classes at Moraine Valley Community College in hopes she can get her GED and enter the health care field, which Vesey said is one of the best fields for people who are currently out of work and willing to retrain.

But for Lauppe, those interpersonal skills that were once her bread and butter no longer serve her in a job search world that's dominated by the Internet.

“I've found 99 percent (of applications) are all emails, and it is not friendly,” Lauppe said.

Many older people looking for work complain of the same thing — taking decades of loyalty and experience and whittling it down to a short essay and a list of duties, Vesey said. While training and volunteer opportunities are important, tenacity and keeping in goods spirits is almost as important, she added.

And that's something both Jimenez and Lauppe have managed to do well.

“I see myself not giving up. And I see myself continuing some type of education or some kind of employment for another 10 to 15 years,” Lauppe said. “I don't know how soon it will happen, but I want to continue because we shouldn't give up.”

Copyright 2011 Cicero Life. Some rights reserved

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