Mark Kirschblum, an application developer and quality assurance tester, suddenly found himself out of work after an 18-year-run at a company that had been sold.
Shortly before his job ended, his task was to transfer to the new company's computer system data about customers and the products and services they purchased. When the work was completed, the new employer didn't hire anyone from information technology, Kirschblum said.
"They shut down the website, and that was it," he said.
Nine months later, Kirschblum, 60, is still looking for work. He said he's saved over the years, helping minimize financial troubles that come with long-term unemployment. He's instead struggling with "the stress and mental anguish of not working."
Kirschblum has joined job-search work groups and attended workshops that teach resume-writing and how best to use the social media career website LinkedIn. On a recent weekday, he and more than a dozen other unemployed workers 50 and older attended a Platform to Employment session in Hartford, Conn., a five-week preparatory program that offers skills assessments, career workshops, employee assistance and other programs.
Joseph Carbone, president and chief executive of the Work Place, southwestern Connecticut's workforce development board that organizes Platform to Employment, blamed age discrimination as one reason older workers are out of work for long periods. Connecticut is one of just three states with a workforce that's gotten smaller since before the start of the Great Recession a decade ago, so making it harder for workers to enter the labor force makes no sense, he said.
"In Connecticut, we need talent, and talent is being squandered every day," Carbone said.
By age, the fastest-growing groups in Connecticut's labor force last year were workers between 55 and 64 and others who are 65 and older, according to the Census Bureau. Workers between 55 and 64 numbered 327,229, an 11% increase from 2014. Among those who were 65 and older, 120,615 workers represented a 23% jump in the same four years.
Patrick Flaherty, an economist at the state Department of Labor, said the numbers are not surprising because these workers are part of the massive Baby Boom generation of nearly 75 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964.
In contrast, the ranks of middle-aged workers — those between the ages of 45 and 54 and others who do not belong to the Baby Boom generation — fell by 7%. The number of workers aged 35 to 44 was up by less than 2%.
Michael Renaud, 54 and unemployed for 10 months following a career in database and loyalty marketing, said he's struggling "from a self-esteem perspective." He's been rejected seven times in four months in his job search, and the biggest challenge, he said, is "getting to talk to a hiring manager."
He said the Platform to Employment sessions help by introducing him to others in a similar predicament.
Eileen Jacobs Sweeney, 68, is looking for a job at nonprofit organizations, writing grants or serving as an administrator or in organization management. She's been out of work since last December and said she too frequently gets no response to job applications.
"It's discouraging," said Sweeney, former executive director of the Manchester Historical Society. "I have a lot of skills built up over the years."
Flaherty counsels older workers that they may have to consider a pay cut and work their way up again.
To employers, he says, "You may have a fantasy about hiring young workers. There's not as much of them. You have experienced, skilled older workers."
Hiring managers sorting through piles of applications may not consciously discriminate, but instead assign characteristics according to age, Carbone said. For example, employers may see younger workers as tech-savvy and older workers as a cause of higher health care costs, he said.
"Three hundred applications in one day overwhelm an HR department," he said. "They begin to make stereotypes."