At age 57, Patricia Stanard went looking for another job after losing her position as manager of a furniture store, but she kept running into dead ends.
"I felt resistance. I applied for jobs I was well qualified for, but I never got hired or interviewed," said the Bethesda woman, now 60, who had previously been a social worker for 25 years in the District and Michigan. "I got the feeling that it was because of my age."
Discouraged, but not ready to give up, she turned to the nonprofit Over 60 Counseling and Employment Service in Chevy Chase for help. Within a couple of months, counselors there found her a part-time job as a manager of the Montgomery County Thrift Shop Association Inc. in Bethesda.
Stanard is one of several thousand Washington-area residents age 50 and over whom the employment service has helped since it began in 1960. Over 60, sponsored by the Montgomery County Federation of Women's Clubs Inc. and partially funded by the county government, was the first program of its kind in Maryland and one of the first in the nation, said Gladys M. Sprinkle, director of the service.
The free job counseling and placement offered by Over 60 and the Prince George's County Department of Aging Services and Programs are important to older residents looking for work to supplement their pensions or Social Security or to keep a foot in the mainstream of life, said Sprinkle and experts on the elderly.
The jobs generally are part-time and relatively low-paying: The bulk of those found through Over 60 pay $4 to $6.50 an hour, and those found through the Prince George's agency, $3.35 (the minimum wage) to $5 an hour, the agencies' officials said. "At times we do feel employers are exploiting," Sprinkle said. "But most older workers would prefer to take a lower-paying job than sit around home."
"By and large retirees do become a cheap labor pool," said Harold Sheppard, former counselor on aging to President Jimmy Carter and former associate director of the National Council on Aging.
He said firms tend to offer retirees much lower wages than younger people. That lower pay results partly from age discrimination and partly from financial penalties Social Security recipients incur if their earnings exceed certain cutoffs, he said.
The job-search help of Over 60 and Prince George's has become increasingly vital because the recession has made it tougher for older persons to find work, which in some cases has become more necessary economically, they say. "Some people come to get a job because inflation has been eating away their pensions," Sprinkle said.
"It's difficult for seniors to go out and look for employment," said Hilda Callier Brown, Prince George's County project director for senior employment. "Their age works against them. But they can gain confidence and encouragement" through the county's programs."
Workers 55 and over made up 7.2 percent of the nation's nearly 12 million unemployed persons in November, compared with 6.5 percent in 1981, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Current Maryland figures were not available, but persons 55 to 64 made up 2.5 percent of the state's 157,000 jobless in 1981, the bureau reported.
Nationally, workers 55 to 64 are unemployed the longest of any age group, the bureau reported in November. They spend a median of 12.9 weeks out of work, compared with 8.8 weeks for those age 20 to 24, 9.9 for those 25 to 34 and 11 for those 35 to 54.
Although most of the 800 to 1,000 new applicants Over 60 sees each year are retired, "in the last year or two, we've been seeing a lot of people in their fifties who have been let out of their jobs due to closings, layoffs or firms that are easing out their higher-priced older workers," said Sprinkle, 65, who has been Over 60's director for 17 years.
In recent years, the agency has found jobs annually for 1,400 to 1,500 persons, many of whom are repeat applicants, she said. The agency sees clients from all over the Washington area, but many jobs it secures are in Montgomery County. In Over 60's first year in 1960, 24 applicants were placed in jobs. The agency once limited its help to persons 60 or older but in the mid-1970s lowered its age requirement to 50.
Prince George's County's 6-year-old program this year has placed about 70 persons 55 and older in private firms, Brown said. The figure is "a little less this year than in the past" because of the recession, she said.
In Prince George's and Montgomery, government and community agencies have programs that use federal funds to provide jobs for low-income persons 55 and older in public agencies or nonprofit organizations.
At Over 60, Sprinkle asks applicants about jobs they've held as well as inquiring about their hobbies and interests. She tries to match those abilities to work, ranging from nonskilled to professional, that firms have listed with the agency. Most of the jobs are part time and most of the firms small.
"If someone has marketable skills, maybe we'll go through the Yellow Pages or business directories and call up businesses," Sprinkle said.
But some applicants have job skills that don't easily transfer to other fields, and that's where the hobbies or interests come in. Sprinkle recalled placing a former visa-fraud investigator for the State Department as a recreation manager because he had worked in the agency's recreation program.
A former stockbroker started managing a stamp shop because of his stamp-collecting hobby. Some applicants have used their carpentry or painting talents to do minor work for homeowners, and others have been trained to provide care for the elderly.
Over 60 also advises the job seekers how to act in interviews, dress and write re'sume's. For some applicants, the tips may be only a refresher in the job market. But for those who never have held jobs outside the home, the counseling can be extensive, Sprinkle said.
On the re'sume', "We don't allow them to list their date of birth, to say they've had 30 years of experience" or anything to indicate their age, Sprinkle said. That puts the older applicant on a more equal footing with younger persons in vying for job interviews, she said.
"We don't misrepresent anybody," Sprinkle emphasized. "But what you don't say on a re'sume' often is as important as what you do say."
Of the 800 to 1,000 new applicants each year, she estimated that Over 60 finds work for three-fourths. Those who don't get jobs often reject the available positions -- or find that their advanced college degrees over-qualify them or scare away employers, she said.
One "over-qualified" client was William A. Parker, 64, of Cheverly, who retired last January as director of hospitals for Prince George's County. Sprinkle said employers she has approached about Parker have been "afraid to hire him because of his accomplishments. He has two master's degrees."
Parker's efforts to find work -- part-time or full-time, paid or volunteer -- have been unsatisfactory to him. He said he has written federal, state and local health agencies indicating his willingness to work, "but I never heard anything back." He said he doesn't want to be an administrator again but prefers a supporting role, and is also interested in matters outside the health field.
Meanwhile, he has been working part time for a local health consulting firm and is on Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital's fund-raising board.
"I believe that, from what I see from my own experience, people who retire in their sixties have a lot to offer and can be supportive of younger workers," Parker said. "They should not be viewed as a threat. Few senior citizens are looking for the demands of a top executive job . It's . . . a disappointment that I don't seem needed."
But Parker and other older workers are needed, and communities benefit if they draw on their experiences and knowledge, Sprinkle said.
Maryland's Office on Aging in Baltimore tries to promote the benefits of hiring the older worker, but businesses generally are not convinced, said Harry Walker, the agency's deputy director.
"The experience of employers is that they find the employes reliable, they show up for work, they're dependable," he said. "Any area where they have reduced ability -- speed -- is more than compensated by the dependability and reliability."
But an argument that works against older workers is that they are taking jobs away from younger applicants, Walker said.
Sprinkle has a quick response to that: "I don't feel it's taking jobs away from young people. I see it as competition. I think the best qualified should get it. There's plenty of room out there in this great country for everyone."
Even when older workers win out in competition against younger workers, they often accept lower pay than some young people are willing to take because of the extra-income restrictions placed on Social Security recipients, Sprinkle said. In 1983, persons aged 62 to 65 who are receiving Social Security benefits can earn up to $4,920 a year and those 65 to 69 can earn $6,600 to supplement their federal checks without being penalized, Sprinkle said. Beginning in the new year, no earning restrictions will apply to persons 70 and older.
Some retirees who go to Over 60 and the Prince George's County office on aging say they want to reenter the work force largely because they are restless.
"I had had a very busy career in a very demanding job. I was on the go in the mornings and evenings, and I put in long days," Parker said of his health administration career of 37 years--17 in Northern Virginia and 20 in Prince George's.
"I was really getting tired. I thought it was time for retirement." He retired in January, but by May, he said, "time began to weigh heavy on my hands."
For an 83-year-old Chevy Chase man, who asked not to be named, a two-day-a-week job at a Rockville men's clothing store that Over 60 found for him will keep him active. He plays golf, but "now that winter is coming up, I'm not going to be able to play golf, so what am I going to do?" he said.
His family thinks he's crazy to be working at his age, he said. But, he said, he has "got to do something . . . . The number one thing with me is to keep going and to be active."