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VOL. 116 | NO. 241 | Monday, December 16, 2002

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Old means gold in tight labor market

Old still means gold in tight labor market


The Daily News

For most people, this years economic slide has been a bit like watching a car wreck from the passenger seat. For retirees or those nearing retirement, the experience has been particularly painful.

The stock market freefall, corporate shenanigans and the fallout from the terrorist attacks have taken their toll on investment portfolios and savings, and are sending some retirees back into the work force.

About 24 percent of todays retirees are working, but that number could grow as nest eggs continue to shrink.

One local organization is focused on making the move back to work easier for seniors.

Senior Services of Memphis is a United Way agency that began as a small senior center in 1961. Over the years, its programs have evolved to include a number of services that help children and the elderly throughout the Memphis area. The agency offers two programs for older workers: a federally funded employment program for low-income individuals and a job referral service.

Carolyn Stearnes, vice president of the family support services division of Senior Services, is in charge of both programs.

Stearnes said the agency has not seen a dramatic increase in the number of seniors seeking employment in the last year. However, the agency is witnessing a repeat of a situation that occurred during the last major economic slump.

What were seeing now, which we saw maybe 10 or 12 years ago in times of an economic downturn, is an increase in the number of people who were just a few years away from retirement who have been laid off, she said.

Due to the continuing sluggish economy, they have seen their 401(k)s dwindling so much that retirement, and certainly early retirement, is no longer an option. Now, they are faced with the fact theyre not going have the same income in retirement that they made working, she said.

We also have seen a lessening of open job orders of employers who are working with us looking for applicants, she said. Overall, employers who come to us are looking for referrals for the $7 to $10 an hour worker, and that has diminished.

Stearnes said usually employers who seek older workers are looking to satisfy a target market.

Seniors are extremely dependable, and particularly if what youre looking for is part-time, because they are seen as a good pool of part-time workers, she said. I think theyre seen as good role models.

They certainly do have experience. Those are the things that make older people attractive (to employers). The underlying thing, when you find businesses that market to or whose traffic is older people, such as pharmacies older people are the ones with the bulk of prescriptions, so they want older people at the counter. Theyre very happy to have the image of an older person to appeal to their target audience.

In her 27 years of experience, Stearnes said she has found that, in general, employers who approach Senior Services are not seeking people with middle to upper management skills. They tend to look to a younger age bracket for those positions.

However, Senior Services offers a job referral service at its offices at 4700 Poplar Ave. as a satellite of Memphis Area Career Center.

Stearnes said 125 to 160 people use this service each month, and although Senior Services specializes in finding employment for older individuals, anyone is welcome to use it.

One employer that might find such a service useful is Regions Bank.

Bank officials recognized that experience and expertise count and not just age when last year they persuaded Robert L. Booth to come out of retirement to become the banks executive vice president and manager of the business banking group.

I retired at Union Planters at the end of 2000, Booth said. Then, I got a phone call from an executive search person, inquiring if I would be interested in coming out of mothballs and having another go at corporate lending.

That was Regions Bank, which followed the acquisition of Morgan Keegan, which I think probably prompted them to expand in the area here given the fact that Morgan Keegan is such a major influence among the business community here in Memphis. That interested me terrifically and its been a lot of fun.

Booth had been enjoying his retirement.

I was and still am working on a book on the psychology of consumer credit, and also helping out part-time with one of my sons in his business and having a good time, he said.

At 66, Booth said he still has no immediate plans to retire.

As long as I feel good and as long as its fun, hell continue to work, he said.

But also, I do believe, at some point, you have to get out of the way and let somebody else have some fun.

For less-skilled workers, Senior Services offers a federally funded employment program for low-income individuals that provides part-time, minimum wage jobs.

Senior Community Service Employment is a Title V program of the Older Americans Act, administered by the U.S. Dept. of Labor. The program currently employs 164 people in Memphis.

Workers are paid the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour. They work in day care centers, libraries and hospitals. They work 20 hours a week. One of the goals of the program is to get this experience and get them back into the job market and transition them into regular employment outside the program, Stearnes said.

Something of a Renaissance woman, 62-year-old Linda Douty said maturity has its own rewards.

Spending much of her early life as a mother and wife, Douty has worked doing everything from in-home clothing sales to modeling.

I see life past 50 as a far more fertile field than I ever dreamed, particularly for women. You escape the cultures insistence that you be young and beautiful. You get free of that and you have a whole new life, she said.

Douty has been a spiritual director for the past five years and sees clients in her home.

She teaches seminars that have to do with spiritual growth and writes book reviews.

In addition, she is director of the Center for Spiritual Growth under the auspices of Samaritan Counseling Centers.

Most of her clients are older, as are most spiritual directors.

Even something as eclectic as this is enriched by age, Douty said. You have to have life wisdom in order to do that.

You have to get muddy yourself before you can help somebody else get out of the mud.

PROPERTY SALES 56 94 12,852
MORTGAGES 23 50 8,053
BUILDING PERMITS 285 422 30,356
BANKRUPTCIES 23 67 6,131