What do you think of when you hear the words ‘the American dream’? For most of ourselves and the people we serve at Goodwill®, the definition would include being able to hold a job that provides long-term support and security for ourselves and our families.
For older workers profiled in the documentary Set for Life (watch it for free), the definition of the American dream shifted drastically due to periods of unexpected unemployment they experienced during the Great Recession.
The American Dream Deferred
Joe Price, a third-generation steelworker from Wierton, WV, once defined the American dream as being able to afford a house, car, occasionally go on vacation and not have to worry about money. Price, who is 52 and out of work for two years at the film’s start, notes “The American dream is not here [in Wierton]. The American dream is that I can have a job that I’m going to be able to hold for five months.”
The documentary’s other main subjects, Deborah Salim and George Ross, tell similar tales of dreams deferred, with the loss of employment setting into motion additional challenges, such as struggling to pay their monthly house expenses, forfeiting medical benefits and draining retirement savings.
New Tactics for Older Workers
While all workers struggled during the Great Recession, older Americans were hit particularly hard (PDF). Between December 2007 and June 2009, the number of unemployed people aged 50 and over increased from 1.4 million to 3.2 million. The documentary participants cited sending out hundreds of applications, receiving few interviews and no job offers. Many attributed their age as a reason they were being overlooked.
Experts interviewed in the film stressed it was important for older job seekers to emphasize their continued investment in learning and keeping their skills up to date. Older workers profiled in the documentary cited strategies such as returning to school to improve their skills, seeking certifications and taking on volunteer work to increase their experience.
Know an Older American in Need of Support?
Goodwill members across the U.S. and Canada are dedicated to helping individuals 55 and older find work, develop skills, maintain or establish financial security, and access affordable health care. Additionally, some Goodwills offer opportunities through the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSCEP).
By supporting Goodwill, you can help people like Steve Hennessey live independently while gaining valuable work skills.