Older Americans Month 2021: Communities of Strength

by Laura Walling, Senior Director of Government Relations, Goodwill Industries International

Led by the Administration for Community Living’s Administration on Aging, Older Americans Month (OAM) is observed every May to recognize older Americans and their contributions to our communities. This year’s OAM theme, Communities of Strength, celebrates the strength of older adults and the Aging Network, with special emphasis on the power of connection and engagement in building strong communities.

Older adults have built resilience and strength over their lives through successes, failures, joys, and difficulties. Their stories and contributions help to support and inspire others. As volunteers, employers, educators, mentors, advocates, and more, they offer insight and experience that benefit the entire community. Most importantly to the work of Goodwill, as employees, older workers bring knowledge, experience and maturity to the workplace.

Local Goodwill organizations provide services to thousands of older Americans each year. Goodwill provides paid on-the-job training to older workers with low incomes through the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), funded through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.

SCSEP is a critical component in our nation’s workforce development system that is helping to address the employment challenges of older Americans and the workforce needs of America’s employers. SCSEP prepares unemployed older adults, age 55 and older, for employment through paid, on-the-job work experiences at community nonprofits or agencies, such as a libraries, schools, hospitals or senior centers.

Unlike the general workforce development system, SCSEP is required to serve most-in-need older adults. During the last program year, SCSEP provided employment supports to individuals with low employment prospects, who lived below the poverty line, had disabilities, who were homeless or at-risk of homelessness, and who resided in rural areas or in areas of persistent unemployment.

The COVID-19 pandemic placed enormous hardships on older Americans who faced health issues, isolation and job loss. The need for SCSEP remains critical as it takes unemployed older adults twice as long on average to return to the workforce as their younger counterparts, and even longer for most-in-need older adults with low employment prospects. Two million people over age 55 were unemployed in January, according to an analysis of federal data published by the AARP Public Policy Institute. They accounted for roughly 1 in 5 jobless Americans. SCSEP is essential in today’s period of retirement insecurity, and is particularly important for women, people with disabilities, those in rural areas, and veterans seeking employment, particularly as they struggle with long-term unemployment at greater numbers during the pandemic.

Congress is currently considering increased funding for important job training programs, including SCSEP, for Fiscal Year 2022. Your voice is important to our efforts in educating Congress about the value of SCSEP and the positive impact that older workers have in our communities. Register through our Legislative Action Center and follow us on Twitter to receive future alerts and updates about SCSEP and other employment programs of importance.