In the process, Jilani demonstrated the stark skills gap facing older workers like his nana. “He’s my tutor,” China said.
The divide between China and her grandson underscores the challenges facing older unemployed workers in the District and elsewhere as they try to find a place in an economy that has been slow to create jobs in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
Elected in 2010, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray campaigned on a pledge to reduce the District’s high unemployment rate. His One City One Hire initiative, announced in September, is intended to link 10,000 D.C. residents with jobs within a year.
So far, though, the program has struggled to reach older workers, who often lose out to younger workers in a city where the jobless rate is 9.9 percent and competition for work can be stiff.
“The biggest problem is having to compete with the younger generation for the same pool of jobs,” said Tomiko Thomas, program manager for the D.C. Office on Aging’s Older Workers Employment and Training Program.
For the 12 months ended in February, the District’s unemployment rate for men 55 and older was 7.6 percent, and the rate for women 55 and older was 9.2 percent, according to unpublished U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data provided to The Washington Post by the D.C. Department of Employment Services.
Younger workers often have the college degrees and technical skills necessary to get a job in today’s economy, experts say, and they have a higher tendency to stay in a job longer, rather than retiring after a few years.
Now, the city’s Department of Employment Services is focusing special attention on “mature” workers, beginning with a recent employment screening event at the agency’s new headquarters on Minnesota Avenue NE.
On a Friday morning last month, 200 job seekers perused leaflets advertising jobs in industries such as food service, administration, health care and hospitality.
Rodney Smith, 56, was among those hoping he could gain an edge in landing a job.
Attending events that aren’t targeted to older workers is “not an advantage at my age,” said Smith, who has experience in several industries, including food service and construction.
Smith, who lives in Southeast Washington, was at the screening event searching for a job that would allow him to work and continue his education.
“At my age, I’m willing to try anything but construction again,” he said, sitting bolt upright in a striped blue suit he had borrowed.
Smith and the other job seekers waited quietly in rows of folding chairs for their turn to meet with an agency worker for help editing their resumes and to discuss the next step — attending the actual job fair at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library the following week — if the agency worker felt the seeker’s skills matched an employer’s needs.