Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Women Aged 55 to 62 Are Untapped Work Force in Oklahoma

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Women Aged 55 to 62 Are Untapped Work Force in Oklahoma

Article excerpt

There is an untapped work force in Oklahoma of women between the ages of 55 and 62, according to a report released by the Governor's Advisory Committee on the Status of Women.

"These are the women who fall through the cracks. They are too young to receive Social Security and Medicare, and they face enormous difficulties in the job market," said Hannah Atkins, assistant director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Division of Services for the Aging.

"I am especially concerned about these women. We need to do more to help them get job training," Atkins said.

The report, entitled "Aging W.O.M.E.N. - Women of Many Economic Needs," was Atkins' brainchild. She encouraged the Governor's Advisory Committee on the Status of Women to study the needs of Oklahoma's older women. The report summarized testimony from older women at public hearings conducted throughout Oklahoma last year.

The state provides some job training through the Displaced Homemakers Program, which is part of the vocational-technical school system.

The Displaced Homemakers Program should be expanded to all areas of the state to provide employment training and support services, such as transportation, for women in their forties, fifties and older, who have lost their primary sources of income, the report said.

Many of these women are pushed into the job market - for the first time ever or for the first time in 25 years - after being widowed or divorced, Atkins said.

They lose health care benefits and pension rights when their marital status changes, Atkins said.

"They are on the brink of financial disaster," the report said.

The "Catch 22" is: How does a woman get a job to support herself without recent, paid work experience?

Special emphasis should be given to helping unemployed women who are heads of households or single women living alone, Atkins said.

Beverly Horse, coordinator of the Displaced Homemakers Program in Lawton, said:

"Age discrimination is a very real barrier. Many times employers tend to lean toward hiring the younger person."

State Rep. Freddye Williams, D-Oklahoma City, said:

"We need to tap into the job market more to find out where the demand is, so we can give these women the right kind of job training."

Williams said she did not have an estimate of the numbers of women in her northeast Oklahoma City district who "fall through the cracks" in the 55-to-62 age group.

"But I do know this," she said. "The face of poverty is increasingly female. . .female and children."

A total of 98,151 Oklahoma women age 60 and up lived on incomes of $2,000 to $3,999 per year in 1980, the report said.

Some job-training programs also are guilty of practicing age discrimination, Horse, the coordinator of Lawton's Displaced Homemakers Program, testified at a public hearing last year.

"The job training programs must show every time after they train someone or spend money on them that they can place them on a job. Because it is more difficult to train an older woman, to give themthe proper training, it takes longer and they have to spend more money," Horse said.

"Of course, because of the age barriers out there for women, it is more difficult to place them into employment. So therefore, these programs try to screen their clients," she said. "They want to find somebody else to place right away and usually it is younger people being served."

Although the job market is toughest for women in the 55-to-62 age group, younger women raising children alone also have a very rough time of finding a job, Horse said.

"No one wants them in the work force," she said. "This is especially true if the woman has been receiving welfare. Employers are reluctant to hire them."

So how can the cycle of poverty be broken?

"There are a lot of attitudes that have to change on the part of employers, on the part of government, and I guess, on the part of individuals as well," Horse said. …

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