Economic worries and changing work habits are reflected at a Baltimore County job fair for seniors and baby boomers

Older workers seek security

October 15, 2004|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

As hundreds of people seeking work wandered through the rows of tables yesterday at a job fair in Timonium, one common thread tied them together: They were all over the age of 50, an increasing segment of Maryland's work force.

But what made them different from those who came to the senior job fair in years past is that many have been forced into retirement and must find jobs, said Patti Madigan, employment and housing manager for the Baltimore County Department of Aging, one of the job fair's sponsors. Previous participants at the Senior Expo/Baby Boomer Expo were shopping around, she said.

"In other years, they're just seeing what else is available in planning their retirement," Madigan said. "Now, they are looking for something."

The percentage of workers in the state who are 65 and older has been increasing in the past 10 years, as has the percentage of workers age 45 to 54, according to a U.S. Census Bureau study released this month. Maryland mirrors a national trend as older workers seek jobs to fill their time in retirement or provide financial stability in an uncertain economy.

Higher costs for health care and gasoline, worries about pension benefits and losses in the stock market have pushed an increasing number of people to keep working even during retirement years. Some workers have lost their jobs and need to keep earning a paycheck. Others said the jobs that are available just don't pay enough.

Jean Nelson, 64, was laid off in August from her job with the Baltimore school system. Typically at job fairs, she finds herself vying for the same positions as teenagers. But Nelson said she is desperate to find work. So when she heard about this job fair, Nelson hoped she would have better luck.

"The older worker is more committed, more dedicated, and ... we're here for the long term," Nelson said.

Indeed, several companies said yesterday they were drawn to the fair because the pool of workers typically is experienced and reliable.

"We already employ a lot of senior citizens now, and we think they give a lot of attention to detail and engage our customers," said Robert L. Stuebner Jr., director of human resources for the grocery store Eddie's of Roland Park.

"We know the baby boomer generation and the seniors in general have very good work ethics," agreed Ann Miller, operations manager of Apex Clerical, a staffing agency in Lutherville.

Eddie's and Apex Clerical were two of more than 50 companies at the expo, where about 800 job-seekers were expected throughout the day. The companies - from American Express Financial Services to the Greater Baltimore Medical Center - were hiring for full-time and part-time workers ranging from financial advisers to receptionists to sales professionals.

Companies beyond Maryland are employing older workers as well. Trudy Bourgeois, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Workforce Excellence, a Texas-based training and consulting firm, said businesses around the country are likely to keep baby boomers on their payroll because of their experience.

"The baby boomer generation, we were from a generation that when the company said, `Jump,' you said, `How high?' When the company said, `Move,' you said, `Where do I go?'" Bourgeois said. "And the next generation, they're not like that. Work is a piece of their life, not their whole life."

The percentage of Maryland workers who are 65 and older increased slightly to 3.1 percent in 2002, from 2.4 percent in 1990. The percentage of Maryland workers between the ages of 45 and 54 grew to 21 percent in 2002, from 15 percent in 1990, according to the census report.

Meanwhile, the number of workers 45 and older across the country grew to 53.1 million in 2003 from 34.1 million in 1990. The number of workers 65 and older grew to 4.6 million in 2003 from 3.4 million in 1990, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

People are living longer and working longer. Plus, there are many opportunities to stay in the work force in less formal jobs, such as consulting, said Richard Clinch, director of economics for the Maryland Business Research Partnership, a University of Baltimore think tank.

Maryland is a white-collar state with lots of government and professional jobs that are less wearing for older workers, Clinch said.

"We don't have a lot of manufacturing where you have to retire, you can't physically do the job," Clinch said. "You can't be a steelworker when you're 65 ... but if you're an accountant, you can stay in the work force for longer."

Robert Hepding, 60, has been out of work for six months. A maintenance mechanic, Hepding has been on interviews but has yet to land a job. He came to the expo yesterday hoping to change that.

"I can see the benefits of [having] everybody who's looking for employees in one place," Hepding said. "It's like going to a supermarket for jobs."

Some seniors said they came to the expo because they wanted to work - not because they had to.

Barry Finglass and his longtime friend Myron Levy, both 63 and retired, said they each used to own their own business. They came to the job fair in search of part-time work to fill their schedules, "since we have more time than we need," Finglass said.

A part-time job, they said, would provide a social outlet and personal fulfillment.

"Between doing errands and all that stuff for my daughters and grandchildren, I'd like to do something for me," Finglass said.

Linda L. Orem had the same idea. A 60-year-old retired government worker, Orem was looking for a part-time job yesterday so she could have something for herself. She figured the Senior Expo would be just the place to find it.

"I thought with a job fair for baby boomers, it would fit my age," she said. "They wouldn't be looking for just kids."

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