Boomer Unemployment Is a Growing Crisis

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Published February 11, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
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Seasoned Jewish educational leaders make up a small slice of the older Americans struggling with unemployment. Health and social services agencies have been scrambling to support the demographic group having the hardest time finding new work — the millions of out-of-work baby boomers too young to retire and too old to start over.

Profoundly concerned about the impact of the long-term unemployment of this group, Gail A. Magaliff, CEO of FEGS Health and Human Services System, a beneficiary of the UJA-Federation of New York, has become a vocal proponent for addressing the boomer generation’s economic challenges.

In a position paper, “Long Term ‘Baby Boomer’ Unemployment: Profound Economic, Health, Family, and Philanthropic Implications for the Jewish Community,” Magaliff, who was named to the Forward 50 in 2012, outlined the consequences and impact of prolonged unemployment among mature workers, including poorer health and increased healthcare costs, increased use of the government’s safety net and loss of wealth. She also addressed the technology and communications skills gap that has prevented otherwise qualified mature workers from landing thousands of unfilled jobs.

Magaliff recently spoke by phone with the Forward’s Renee Ghert-Zand and shared some personal reflections on the crisis.

Renee Ghert-Zand: How long did it take for the re-employment problems of mature workers to become apparent?

Gail Magaliff: There was a clear shock wave when the recession hit. Middle-class professionals were losing jobs and then companies began to quickly manage without the people who had been laid off. Right from the beginning, we saw that the hardest people to place were the boomers, some of who had worked for Jewish agencies, though we have no specific data on those professionals.

Has the situation improved over time?

Just a few weeks ago, Connect to Care, a group of seven agencies brought together by UJA-Federation to address the crisis, revisited the situation. We found that mature workers remain the group most in need. Employers have gotten used to having fewer people and using more technology. There’s more competition, it’s a harder job market. And, unfortunately, the longer someone is unemployed, the less appealing they are to a potential employer.

How has FEGS been trying to help these mature workers?

We’re working with them on focused skill development, mainly in the areas of technology and communications. Mature workers also need to learn how to network online. Most of these people have had a continuous string of employment, so they are not even used to writing a resume, let alone using something like LinkedIn.

What has been your personal experience in interacting with the unemployed baby boomers?

I’ve had courtesy or networking interviews with something like 100 people, and the most penetrating experience for me has been hearing them tell me what it’s like not to work after having never before experienced unemployment. They tell me about only getting a few calls in response to 50 or 100 job inquiries. They tell me about how they used to feel valued.

What do you recommend mature workers who are having difficulty finding employment do?

Aside from gaining new skills, get internships and volunteer positions. Stay involved.


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