In an effort to lend a helping hand to the increasing senior population, state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) hosted a 50-plus job fair at the Queens Community House in Kew Gardens from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 30, an event that organizers estimated drew over 600 applicants during the first two hours alone.
The large turnout might have been expected. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2030, about 70 million Americans will be 65 or older. Since the mid-1990s, there has been a “dramatic shift” in part-time vs. full-time status of the older workforce, the bureau says.
It reports that between 1995 and 2007, the number of older workers on full-time schedules nearly doubled, while the number working part-time rose just 19 percent.
In addition, the bureau predicts that the number of workers between the ages of 65 and 74 will have soared by 83.4 percent between 2006 and 2016 and that the number of workers aged 75 and up will grow by 84.3 percent.
By 2016, it is expected that workers aged 65 and over will account for 6.1 percent of the total labor force, up sharply from 3.6 percent in 2006.
“Finding a job today is not the easiest thing for most people, and even harder for seniors who want to work,” Addabbo said. “Some people have lived full lives and find themselves back at square one. It’s not uncommon given the cost of living in the city that more and more seniors are looking for employment.”
Among those seeking opportunities at the fair was Helen Cullen, 70, who came all the way from Brooklyn to try her luck but found the event “too crowded.” Cullen works in a doctor’s office that is about to close, leaving her out of a job.
“I don’t like sitting around,” she said. “You can’t live on Social Security today. Are you kidding? With the rents and everything? Forget it.”
Mark Halegua, 60, of Ridgewood, is a self-described “computer geek” who came in search of an opportunity that could take advantage of his experience, which includes having owned his own computer consultation business. His biggest challenge, he said, is marketing his services.
“I don’t know if there’s anything here for me,” he said. “As a small business person, marketing is a pain. I’d rather work than market.”
Joe, a 60-year-old resident of Jackson Heights who did not want his last name in print, also attended. Out of work for nearly four months, he has been actively looking for a position in customer service.
Over the past several weeks, Joe said, he has called several employment agencies. “They want to know how old you are,” he said. “That’s illegal.” When he questioned their tactics, Joe indicated that he was told, “We’ll keep you in mind.”
“You know where that paper went,” he said. “They always seem to be looking for younger people. The older people will give more. We’re old school.”
Standing behind the AARP Foundation Senior Community Services Employment Program table, employment specialist Conrad Santos agreed that seniors have plenty to offer.
“Seniors have the most experience,” he said. “They have proper training. They’re highly educated.”
Seeing the crowds on hand, he said, “There are still a lot of oldies but goodies still looking for jobs.”
Representing the city Department for the Aging, training center manager Jeanette Reed noted that seniors “are reliable, not hanging out at bars late at night. They’re eager to work, polished, they know how to interview.”
She conceded that “maybe they’re a little rusty, but they’re mature, really great people.”
Her agency not only assists seniors in finding jobs, but also helps them prepare resumes, get ready for interviews and “get over the stigma and rise above it” by telling them not to be intimidated by younger people.
Among the companies seeking older employees was Raymour & Flanigan Furniture, represented by regional recruiter Jennifer Lafroscia, who was pleasantly surprised by the turnout.
“There are a lot more people than I thought,” Lafroscia said. With a pile of around 100 resumes in front of her, she said, “We’ve seen matches for what we were seeking to hire,” including positions in warehouse, sales and customer service.
Her firm, she said, has no age limits for employees, and she finds that seniors “tend to know what they’re looking for.”
Naomi Altman, associate executive director of the QCH, saw the need to hold a job fair aimed specifically at seniors.
“People over 50 have been forced out of work,” Altman said. “Economic times being what they are, older adults are running out of savings. The cost of living is going up. It’s very clear there needs to be more done.”
Addabbo has promised to make the 50-plus job fair an annual event. He also hosts one each year for the general population, the next of which will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 19 at the new YMCA in Arverne by the Sea in the Rockaways.