Seniors not ready to retire

Expo: At a job fair in Timonium, 80 area businesses aim to tap into the fastest-growing work force in the United States.

October 08, 1999|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

At 83, a vibrant Dorothy Bass says she still has a lot to do.

Perhaps, Bass says, she will dabble in telemarketing. She might be interested in directing children's activities at a play center. Or maybe she'll work as a school cafeteria lunch lady.

After almost seven decades of doing everything from running a grocery to working as a department store clerk, Bass says she's not quite ready to recline and relax in the so-called golden years of her life.

Yesterday, she was among the more than 10,000 senior citizens who showed up at Baltimore County's 13th annual Senior Expo at Timonium Fairgrounds, and about 2,000 of them were there for only one thing: a job.

They found plenty of opportunities at the expo's first-ever job fair, where 80 Baltimore-area businesses were more than eager to tap into the state's growing work force of senior citizens who just aren't ready to retire and move to Florida.

The fastest-growing segment of the American work force in the next five years is people between ages 55 and 64. In Maryland, 64 percent of people in that age bracket are employed, according to the state Department of Aging.

"I couldn't just sit home and go crazy," says Bass, an aide at Pikesville Senior Center. "I cannot just twiddle my thumbs and watch that TV all day long. I figure as long as my mind is right, I can do anything.

"I may be old, but I get around," Bass tells a potential employer with a smile.

One of the objectives of the job fair was to eliminate stereotypes that the elderly are too old or too slow to work, said Arnold Eppel, deputy director for the county's Department of Aging. The fair doesn't just allow senior citizens to interact with businesses in need of help, it also teaches many how to write a resume, surf the Internet and conduct the perfect interview.

Seniors' selling points

Businesses say the selling points are the work ethic and diligence this age group offers. From florists to medical centers, employers said seniors offer three sure things: No excuses for getting to work late. No jetting off to Ocean City on Fridays. And no complaints about last night's hangover.

"The kids, it's getting bad," explains Bob Ellrich, owner of Friendly Snowball Inc., who was luring potential elderly employees with promises of safe work areas that are fully alarmed and air-conditioned. "You can't depend on them. We hire them, we train them and then they don't show up for the first day of work. With senior citizens, if they're going somewhere, they tell you a month ahead of time."

Officials discovered the need for such an event in May, when the department held a job fair with 30 potential employers in Eastpoint Mall, Eppel says. About 1,100 senior citizens showed.

Building self-worth

"There are two things people ask when they meet you," Eppel says. " `What's your name?' and `What do you do?' A job creates and builds self-worth. This job fair gives people that opportunity while giving back to the community at the same time."

For Diane Ashburn, 70, it was an chance to work with people again.

"I am a people person," says the Randallstown resident, whose only retirement in more than five decades of work was six months of cleaning house and baby-sitting.

For the past two years, she has shelved books as an assistant librarian at Randallstown Elemen- tary School. Now that her husband, Richard, is ill, Ashburn says she can use the money, too.

"Let me tell you about retiring," Ashburn says. "When I was coming up, they taught you to go to work and make money. They told us how to work hard. But they didn't tell us what to do with the money I made. They never told us how to build a future."

Browsing the aisles

Yesterday, Ashburn perused the aisles looking for retail work similar to what she did at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York for eight years. She took one look at the Allfirst Financial Inc. table, shook her head and walked by.

The Hecht's table seemed perfect to her, until recruiters mentioned mandatory weekend work -- after all, that would crimp Ashburn and her husband's social life. But Marriott International's many job opportunities struck a chord.

Ali Ford, a banker who moved to the United States from Iran in 1991, wasn't quite as picky.

"I gave my resume to everybody," says Ford, 66, a Catonsville resident who was waiting for a shuttle bus to take him home. "I need to work. I need money."

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