Older Job Seekers Seek Grasp of Advantages, Disadvantages
Bennet, James, THE JOURNAL RECORD
NEW YORK _ Thomas McGovern walked into the job fair in midtown Manhattan clutching his glossy leather briefcase and chasing a dream he had deferred for decades.
Since he sold his liquor business two years ago, he has been searching for a job as a paralegal, to get a start in the profession he was too poor to join as a young man with family obligations.
Now, at the age of 63, after about a hundred unsuccessful applications, he wonders if he waited too long.
"I don't know if it's because of age," McGovern said. "They haven't said anything, but you always get a feeling, the way the interview goes."
The special disadvantages _ and, they would hasten to add, the considerable advantages _ of being an aging job applicant were very much on the minds of McGovern and more than 900 others who attended a recent the job fair for people 55 and older at the Roosevelt Hotel.
They were not frisky college graduates: Some had white hair, canes and a need every now and then to sit and rest. But they had decades of experience and a finely honed work ethic.
Economists say that the corporate restructuring that took place in the New York City region during the 1980s, which has accelerated during the current recession, has particularly affected aging workers. Traditionally such workers have held onto their jobs, even in tough times, because of seniority.
But as companies restructured to cut costs and compete better, they began thinning out the ranks of middle managers.
"Middle management tends to be middle aged and older," said Samuel M. Ehrenhalt, the regional commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "So the shifts in corporate structure have hit particularly hard at men in the middle ages and older."
Once out of a job, older people have a harder time finding a new one.
"There's still a lot of prejudice against older people," said Patricia A. Dorin, coordinator of the New York state Department of Labor's Older Worker Program. Almost 500,000 of the city's workers are 55 or older.
Unemployment among people 55 and older in New York City remains lower than it is among all workers. But it has risen in recent years. Although unemployment overall in New York City declined by 4.4 percent, to 8.6 percent, between 1981 and 1991, it jumped by 61 percent in the older group, to 6.3 percent, according to Ehrenhalt.
Nationally, unemployment also rose among people 55 and older, though less markedly _ from 3.6 percent in 1981 to 3.9 percent in 1991. In October, it stood at 5 percent, compared with 7.4 percent for the population as a whole.
Robert Rheinstein, who is 63 and was laid off as a construction company project manager, did not express his loss in macroeconomic terms.
"I got satisfaction out of work and enjoyed the challenge and personal relation that went with it, and I'm not ready to give that up," he said. Plus, he said, "I need the money."
He came to the job fair seeking "work which is challenging, responsible and that can use my 40 years of experience." But he had held only two different jobs during those 40 years, he said, and he didn't really know how to find a new one.
Even for people who voluntarily leave the workforce, retirement can turn out to be a big disappointment.
"If you're just going to sit down and suck your thumb, you might as well give up and take a cyanide pill," said Thomas Sheehan, 64, a former executive in an automotive-leasing company who, after a heart attack and two strokes, came to the job fair leaning on a cane. …