When Richard A. Pomponio was laid off as a steel mill payroll clerk in July 1982, he thought it was only temporary. But after a few months and no word from his employer, he realized he was displaced.
"It hit me real hard when I signed my last check. I had children in school, mortgage payments, payments of repairs on my house," Pomponio, 52, of McKeesport, Pa., said.
He enrolled in a program for dislocated workers and went to school for three semesters studying accounting, thinking it would help him get a job.
"Boy, was I wrong. As soon as any prospective employer sees that I am 52 years old and worked for U.S. Steel, all I am told is that I am overqualified, or not in so many words, but I am too old," he told a congressional hearing called thisweek to examine the plight of the displaced older worker. It was not until two weeks ago that Pomponio finally landed a job as a part-time bookkeeper.
Martin Ziegler of the Bureau of Labor Statistics told the House Select Committee on Aging that a survey between January 1979 and January 1984 found 5.1 million workers who had been displaced, of whom about 750,000 were between 55 and 64 years old and 190,000 were 65 or older.
Among the 750,000, he said, only two-fifths were working again at the time of the survey. "Almost one-third were unemployed -- the highest proportion of any age group," he said.
Pomponio, who has a one-inch stump for a middle finger on his right hand due to an industrial mishap, is one of more than half a million older workers in the steel and auto industries displaced during the worldwide economic recession.
Wearing a black T-shirt with the words "MON Valley Unemployed Committee" and a black baseball hat pinned with slogan buttons such as "Jobs or Income," he said: "I have pounded the streets, written and sent over 200 resumes to no avail. What you people have done to my generation is one big damn shame. Nobody wants me because I am 52 years old. I am willing to learn the way I am needed for any new job. I have to get back in the work force."
He said he was forced to put up his house for sale after 12 years of mortgage payments. "What society and the government has done to me I wouldn't do to my worst enemy. They took my job away from me. No income, I am losing my home, I am fighting with my family, I have headaches, heartaches . . . it is just no good," he said.