One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. Rosalie S. Abrams, 74, is director of the Maryland Office on Aging, which directs, administers and coordinates statewide programs to meet the needs of older Marylanders
Q. What are some of the problems that a retired or older person might face when trying to get into the job market?
A.It's tough to get into the job market for an older person, except for low entry-level jobs and a lot of part time work, but not many jobs are available for professionals and higher skilled people in the management area. The other problem is, of course, there's some lack of self-confidence and they need to develop some application skills and interviewing skills because a lot of these older people who are unwillingly retired find their esteem lowered by the fact that they have been laid off possibly or whatever their particular circumstances. So they need some of the skills again that will fly, and also they need the job opportunities and they aren't always there.
Q. How does the state define an older worker?
A. I can only tell you what employment agencies do. We have an employment agency in the city, nonprofit, for over 60 -- they've now changed it to over 55. So I guess that's an older worker. You can define them anywhere. We have all kinds of definitions for older workers. Social Security says 65. The Older Americans Act says 60. Fair Housing says 62. So it depends.
Q. Do older people primarily seek employment for monetary reasons?
A. No, a lot of older people are already retired at the age of retirement, 65. Some a little younger, but they've retired and they may have participated in the retirement. A lot of older people need work to supplement their income, of course -- that's one big reason. But otherwise [they work] to have some structure in their lives and to feel that they are contributing in a meaningful way. A lot of people have their lives, their self images, defined by what they do more than what they are. I think this also is a motivating factor. A lot of people who don't want to work full-time would like to work part-time.
Q. And yet there's that perception that older workers don't have the technical abilities?
A. Well, they have the technical abilities. They are beginning to appreciate more and more the kind of technical ability and that older person can learn, too. I know people who, well I know some CPAs for instance, who have learned to use computers. I know a lot of older people who have learned to use computers and brushed up on their skills because that's what the market today is. You don't lose use your ability to learn as you get older.
Q. Are there a lot of widows left without means of supporting themselves?
A. Yeah, women, of course, are hard hit if they have never participated in the job market at all. A woman who has been working, of course, is in the same situation as a man has been working. They have skills and they understand the work place. The woman who hasn't worked, of course, has a lot of difficulty and there are special programs for displaced homemakers. As you know, Maryland was one of the first states to do that, and a lot of the colleges and community colleges have continuing education and do offer some opportunities for women to brush up on their skills. And of course there are opportunities to learn new skills.
Q. How would a job affect a person's pension benefits or Social Security?
A. Social Security depends on how much you earn. You can earn up to a certain amount, and I'm sorry I can't tell you the exact amount. If you take Social Security, you can take Social Security at the age of 62 [although it is] less than you would get if you waited until 65, and your Social Security check diminishes as you earn [more]. If you earn more money than is allowed, your Social Security check diminishes by that amount. For instance, I never collected any Social Security. So I hit 70. At the age of 70, you can work and make as much money as you want and you collect your Social Security anyway, regardless of how much you're making. And the more you work and pay into the Social Security system, you do get an increased benefit, up to the maximum.
Q. Is there discrimination against older workers already in the work force? Maybe younger people trying to edge them out and get their positions?