Susan Morris was saddened and shocked when she learned her position at an area high school had been eliminated, ending her 15-year teaching career.
The 56-year-old Shavertown woman loved her job, but she remained upbeat, confident that her experience teaching business classes would quickly land her a new job in the private sector.
I thought, ‘I'll find a job in an office,' she said. I can type 62 words per minute. I've taught customer service, marketing, management, business law, office procedure …
Then the letters started to arrive.
We would like to thank you for your interest, one letter began. We regret to inform you, you are not in consideration for this position.
After reviewing numerous applications, began another, you were not selected as one of our candidates to interview.
Fourteen months, 56 job applications and 18 state civil service tests later, Morris has not found a full-time position.
She's beginning to wonder if she ever will.
She has become a statistic, one of 12.1 million Americans who are unemployed as of September. Of that number, 1.9 million, or 16 percent, are older workers, age 55 or over.
High unemployment rates have plagued all age groups since the start of the recession in 2007, but older workers have been particularly hard hit when it comes to finding a new job, say experts in the issues affecting the elderly.
In September, the average duration of unemployment was 55.7 weeks for older workers, compared to 37.2 weeks for younger jobseekers, according to a report issued by Sara Rix, a senior strategic adviser for the American Association of Retired Persons.
And while the overall unemployment rate for all workers has dropped, from 9.1 percent in September 2011 to 7.8 percent last month, the decrease was less significant for older workers, from 6.7 percent to 5.9 percent.
The picture has been a lot less rosy for those older workers who are in declining industries or for other reasons lost their job, Rix said. They have had a really tough time, as duration of unemployment figures indicate. … The longer a worker is unemployed, the less likely it is that he/she will find work.
The most common reasons employers cite for not hiring older workers include concerns that they are more expensive, and fear the employer will not have time to recoup their hiring and training costs before the employee retires, according to a 2011 report by Urban Institute, a national research group that provides information about social and economic issues.
Morris is convinced her age is the primary reason she's struggling to find work.
She was laid off from a $55,000-a-year position with the Lackawanna Trail School District in August 2011 after the district eliminated the business program she taught for five years.
She had planned to work in the district another 10 years. Coupled with a 10-year stint at a school in Gettysburg, she would have had 25 years in and qualified for a state pension.
Now that's all gone.
Today she spends hours on the computer each day searching for job openings. The biggest problem, she said, is she can't get an interview for most of the positions she seeks.
They see a student just out of Bloomsburg University who is 22 years old and will start at a lower salary. Why would they look at me? she said.
To combat that, Morris said she's deleted jobs she held more than 15 years ago from her résumé as that can tip off a potential employer to her age. If she can get past the initial resume review and get an interview, she has a better shot, she believes.
If I could get an interview, I could sell myself, she said.
Even if she does find full-time work, research shows chances are slim workers in her age group will earn the same. From 2007 to 2009, median hourly earnings are 21 percent lower for older worker in their new jobs than before they were laid off, according to the Urban Institute report.
Morris said she realizes it's unlikely she'll match her pre-layoff income.
While she continues to look for full-time employment, she recently took a part-time position, with no benefits, teaching at a local business school.
Ironically, the decision has cost her $75 a week because the income from the job reduced her unemployment compensation benefits.
I'm making less than I would if I did not work and just collected unemployment, she said. You can't get ahead.
So why did she take the job?
I can't sit home and not be productive, she said. It gives me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Morris said she feels fortunate that, so far, the layoff has not caused significant financial problems. Between her husband's job as a carpenter and unemployment benefits she receives, they're making ends meet.
But she sees major issues on the horizon once her unemployment runs out in six months. She's not sure if she has another extension to tap.
She's also in the perilous position of having no health insurance. Her husband's job does not offer coverage for spouses, and they can't afford the $500 a month price tag of the cheapest private insurance plan she could find.
It's not the fate she expected as she approaches retirement after having worked her entire adult life.
I've worked since I was 16, she said. I've never had to deal with the unemployment system.
Despite the disappointments, Morris said she's not bitter or angry with the school for laying her off. The district suffered a significant cut in state funding and had to cut somewhere, she said.
Why waste that energy being bitter and resentful. You have to use that energy to be positive and look for a job she said.
Morris tries to remains upbeat, but admits it can be a struggle at times.
I am a bit disillusioned, she said. Why I can't get an interview is absolutely beyond me. That's the worst part, the frustration of trying, and trying and trying and nothing happens.
Finding a job is difficult for many people, but it can be particularly troublesome for workers age 50 and over, experts say. Here are a few tips to help older jobseekers find work:
• Résumés: Tailor your résumés to the specific position for which you are applying. Emphasize experience within the last 10 to 15 years and keep the information to the point. Focus on your accomplishments and skills.
• Interview tips: Anticipate questions and prepare answers for each one. Review your accomplishments and express your willingness to learn new skills. Take your time responding to questions, but don't dwell on topics unrelated to the job.
Become Web-savvy: Learn how to post résumés online and to use online job search sites.
•Update your skills: Technology skills are particularly important, including the use of spreadsheets, word processing and calendaring applications.
• Network: Get involved in professional associations, volunteer programs and networking groups to expand your contacts and learn about new opportunities.
Sources: Eldercare.gov and About.com