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Published: Sunday, 3/9/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

Workers 55 and up face hurdles in job market

Those in age group take longest to find position

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Bowling Green resident Barb Bertonaschi poses with books at the Wood County Library in Bowling Green. It’s been seven years since the 59-year-old woman had a paycheck. She’s trying to take classes at Owens Community College, but education is expensive. Bowling Green resident Barb Bertonaschi poses with books at the Wood County Library in Bowling Green. It’s been seven years since the 59-year-old woman had a paycheck. She’s trying to take classes at Owens Community College, but education is expensive.
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BOWLING GREEN — For some unemployed workers, it’s almost more difficult coming to terms with needing help than it is not having a paycheck.

“I want to work. I don’t want to beg. I don’t want to ask people for help, but you get down to the point you have to,” Barbara Bertonaschi said recently.

The 59-year-old Bowling Green woman had just gotten another shut-off notice from her electric company.

“I guess I’m a proud person,” she said. “I would rather do it myself. I don’t like to ask for help. I like to be the one to help.”

But like many others, that has become the reality for Ms. Bertonaschi, who has been jobless for the last six years.

She last worked for Sky Bank in the mortgage department, but lost her job in 2007 when Sky’s Arrowhead Park operations center closed following the bank’s merger with Huntington Bancshares Inc.

“It was a very enjoyable job. I learned a lot. I had a lot of responsibilities I enjoyed. But it seems even though I had the skills, no one cares,” Ms. Bertonaschi said. “I’m almost 60 now. I think they’re looking at that too.”

She hasn’t worked since. She and her husband get by on his disability payments. She’s had interviews, but no job offers.

“You go in and tell them you’ve worked at the license bureau eight years, you’ve worked in a foundry, in an office, you’ve worked in a bank for five years, and nothing’s cutting through to these people that you’re a good worker and you’re always going to be there,” she said.

Rejections come in bunches. Once, after an interview in Toledo, a rejection e-mail beat her home.

“I just have to joke to myself and say they don’t know what they lost,” she said. “It helps with the ego. I don’t have a big ego, but it’s pretty doggone crushed.”

The U.S. unemployment rate was 6.6 percent in February, the lowest it has been in five years. It ticked up to 6.7 percent in February. However, job growth continues to be weak, and the falling unemployment rate is almost as much about people leaving the labor force as it is jobless Americans finding work.

What’s more, a third of unemployed Americans have been jobless for six months or longer.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more than half of those long-term unemployed are high school graduates who either didn’t go on for higher education or took college classes but did not complete a degree program.

Ms. Bertonaschi, who long ago got a GED, had been working toward an associate’s degree in office administration at Owens Community College, but she said she could no longer afford to take classes.

While she thinks education could help, she believes her biggest obstacle to getting a job is something she can’t change: her age.

“We know what they’re looking for,” she said. “They want somebody that’s younger that they think is going to stick around.”

Employers are prohibited by law from discriminating based on age. However, government data show it takes unemployed workers age 55 and up an average of 44 weeks to find new employment — the longest of any age group.

Ms. Bertonaschi has worked a variety of office and customer service jobs over the years. While she likes working behind the scenes, as she did with Sky, she also spent eight years at the county license bureau and said she’s good dealing with the public.

“You know how to treat people. You know to treat them fair. You know if they come in angry how to schmooze them over and calm things down,” she said. “You’ve gotta put yourself in their shoes. You know they are the one coming in with a problem and listen to them.”

Many years ago, as a single mother raising four young children, Ms. Bertonaschi received welfare. The assistance with food and medical care helped her through a rough time, but she was glad to get back on her feet, earning a living and supporting her family.

“I never wanted to be in that situation ever again, and here I am,” she said.

But even in her situation, she tries to remain positive and find the good. She’s had more time to spend with her grandson, for example.

She also wants to help others. A great resource for her has been the state’s Department of Job and Family Services Ohio Here to Help Web site, ohioheretohelp.ohio.gov. The site has information on various resources for education and training, food, housing, and more.

She also suggested people in need of assistance contact the United Way.

After six years of not working, she’s desperate to get her own paycheck and not have to ask for help and wonder how she will stretch things out.

“You cannot imagine how it kills the spirit, but you've just gotta get back up and keep on going along, you know? God gave us talents and the belief,” she said. “I know he’s watching over us. I do know that.”

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134 or on Twitter @BladeAutoWriter.



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