Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford

Ending a longtime discriminatory practice against the unemployed topped a list of recommendations from the state legislature’s chief investigative panel to help more of Connecticut’s older residents find work.

The Program Review and Investigations Committee also recommended expanding education and training opportunities for seniors, increasing access to small business subsidies and promoting the state’s apprenticeship programs.

“It’s still legal in Connecticut to discriminate in want ads, until we fix it,” said Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, co-chairwoman of the Program Review panel.

Nora Duncan, state director for AARP Connecticut, called the recommendation of job posting “one of the highlights” of the committee report.

“It’s no secret that older unemployed workers have a harder time finding work than their younger counterparts,” said Duncan, who added that the average duration of unemployment for those age 55 and older is about 50 weeks. That compares to 34 weeks for younger job seekers.

Duncan also praised the committee’s recommendation to expand the Plus 50 Initiative to all 12 of Connecticut community colleges.

Organized in 2008 by the American Association of Community Colleges, the initiative is a national project that assesses the most innovative community college programs that engage learners age 50 and older.

The initiative also makes recommendations to upgrade programs with a focus on workforce training.

Currently, Middlesex, Naugatuck and Norwalk are the only Connecticut community colleges involved in the program.

Ironically, many older workers have the attributes employers surveyed are seeking the most. “They are very dedicated workers,” Mushinsky said. “They show up on time. Many have excellent reading and writing skills.”

The committee, which earlier this month unanimously adopted 16 recommendations aimed at reversing unemployment among older residents, is expected to propose legislation to implement them during the 2014 General Assembly session, which begins February 5.

Since the beginning of the last recession in late 2007, the number of workers age 50 and older facing long-term unemployment has grown significantly.

Committee staff identified several barriers facing this age group, including a growing number of employers who will consider only currently employed applicants when looking to fill a job.

One of the committee’s chief recommendations is to ban employers from listing current employment as a required qualification to receive a new job.

And while this bias could be an obstacle for applicants of any age, Program Review staff reported that 53 percent of older workers nationally have been off the job for longer than six months – a higher percentage than any other age group.

Some older residents struggle to find new work because they have skills that are out-of-date, particularly those with a high school education or less.

“For many older workers, it may have been 20 or 30 years since they last looked for a job, and the landscape has changed,” Program Review staff wrote in their report to the committee. “This new long-term unemployment experience has a deleterious effect on the older workers’ immediate financial situation, and physical and mental health, areas that need to be addressed before searching for employment.”

Because of many other financial responsibilities, many older residents also need to find an income even while they are participating in new skill training.

The committee also found that some employers harbor negative stereotypes about older workers and about the long-term unemployed. “Employers may think those currently employed have a stronger work ethic than the unemployed,” staff wrote.

Other committee recommendations to help older residents find new work include:

  • Expanding the state’s online career centers. While “there are a multitude of programs to assist with the reemployment of unemployed workers, including older workers,” Program Review staff wrote, they also found “a number of programs had waiting lists, meaning demand exceeded capacity.”
  • Requiring the state’s merged public college and university system to study expanding its Advanced Manufacturing Center training program to increase worker training options in new high-demand careers.
  • Requiring the college and university system to explore expanding financial aid options for students taking non-credit vocational courses. This should include possibly expanding low-interest loans that students could repay after finding new employment.
  • Eliminating a requirement that STEP UP, a state program that subsidizes the wages of new workers for small businesses, be limited to workers from communities with high unemployment or populations greater than 80,000.
  • And establishing a web-based “state hiring campaign” for older workers on the Department of Labor’s website. Information about training programs also would be condensed into a one-page reference sheet for operators to use on the United Way’s Infoline service, which can be accessed by dialing 2-1-1.
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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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