BY Stassy Olmos
Although unemployment numbers for workers over the age of 65 are down, staff at various senior organizations around the city say that older workers who seek employment aren’t only facing language and skill barriers, but also a lack of government resources, with budget cuts of over 50 percent at a time when the population is growing.
Caryn Resnick, the Deputy Commissioner of External Affairs at the Department for the Aging says, “older workers encounter ageism” as well as “limited work experience, poverty, disability, or language barriers.” She says that helping these workers enter or return to the workforce has always been challenging, but numbers show it may only get worse.
In 2014, New Yorkers 65 years and older were 14.7 percent of the state’s total population, and in 2010 they represented 12.1% of New York City’s population, according to the Census. Statewide, 4.3 percent were unemployed last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This causes concern because the Department for the Aging’s Annual Plan Summary for 2016-2017 predicts, “as baby boomers continue to age, the number of older employees will become an increasingly significant proportion of all workers.” It found that one in every five workers in the U.S. was 55 or older in 2013, and projects that in fewer than 10 years, that number will increase to one in every four.
Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) is the only federal program specifically providing job training and employment to older adults. SCSEP programs throughout the United States receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Labor under Title V of the Older Americans Act, which assists low-and-moderate income people over 55 for a maximum of two years at two different SCSEP program employers, four years, total. The goal is for the individual to obtain a permanent job by that time.
On the local level, the Department for the Aging (DFTA) is one of the largest recipients of this funding in the nation. This year, SCSEP served nearly 500 people through DFTA, about 60% of them between 55 and 64 years old.
However, this year DFTA has had to adjust to a dramatic cut of more than $4 million in funding, cuts that have been felt nationwide.
“Combined with the expiration of federal stimulus monies, overall funding for DFTA’s program has been reduced to approximately $3.5 million, down from approximately $8 million in fiscal year ’11,” Resnick says. As a result, DFTA has had to cut back on programming, providing fewer hours of service to fewer seniors.
Elvira Yanes, the director of programs at the non-profit ENCORE Community Services, which aids senior citizens in Midtown, says her center currently has one SCSEP participant working in the kitchen, who came to them from DFTA. When funding was cut, she lost her spot in DFTA’s program and found ENCORE, which receives funding from the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging.
Yanes has worked with the program for three years and says she has seen the effects of the budget cuts. “Ones that were already placed, they reduced their hours,” she says. Their current participant works 17 hours, the maximum amount a SCSEP employee can get, at minimum wage, which is $8.75.
Yanes says people who come to the ENCORE center ask for work because their rents are going up and many are on a fixed income, but she has only one option for them. “I can only refer them to that (SCSEP) program,” she says.
“Unfortunately, I have not heard any successful stories in my experience,” Yanes says. One of the women she hired at ENCORE with SCSEP funding continued on to another agency for another two years. Yanes says the woman completed her four years last year and is still looking for a job.
When compared to other New York employment aid programs, SCSEP does not receive nearly as much funding.
In 2015, Governor Cuomo delegated $30 million to the New York Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), which provides youth between the ages of 14 and 24 with summer employment, delegating nearly $15.5 million to New York City in particular. In total, the NYC SYEP receives almost $50 million to fund the program.
According to the latest Census survey, those ages 15-24 made up 14.1% of the population in 2013.
DFTA’s SCSEP program has decided to recruit more partners to help with resources. This year, they began a citywide recruitment campaign to connect with new host agency partners. Jon Minners, the Director of Public Affairs at DFTA says these partners are primarily nonprofits who need support and can provide training to SCSEP participants.
Sandy Maya, the director at Project Find Clinton Senior Center in Midtown Manhattan, has worked with seniors in multiple jobs for the majority of her career. “Back then there was more employment, but still not enough,” Maya says.
When she worked at Leonard Covello Senior Center, she employed four people with Title V funding from DFTA, and six people at Corsi Senior Center, but that was more than 10 years ago.
In her previous job at Single Stop, she would consult with about 10 older adults a day, and a handful would ask about employment and housing. “They couldn’t find work, their age and language was a barrier; some had just moved to the United States,” Maya says.
Maya has just begun her new role as director at Project Find Clinton and says she’s interested in working with DFTA to employ more seniors at her Midtown center.
“Despite a challenging economic climate, DFTA works diligently to place Title V participants into meaningful employment upon completion of the program,” Resnick says. She says the industries where older workers are having the most success in job placements include health care, administrative support, security, retail and maintenance.