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Philadelphia Woman, 73, Testifies Age Has Kept Her Unemployed

Courtesy of the Senate Committee on Aging(NEW YORK) -- Sheila Whitelaw of Philadelphia is a college graduate and has managed three different non-profits as executive director.  Despite her experience, she said one particular trait may have caused difficulty in her two-year job search: her age.

Whitelaw, 73, said she never had difficulty working or finding a job until she was laid off from a clothing business when she was 71 and had to look for work.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that about 4.2 million older workers were unemployed or underemployed in January 2011, and 3.65 million remained unemployed or underemployed in December 2011.

Whitelaw says age discrimination may be playing a part in her ability to get part-time or full-time work.

"I have really good credentials and a very varied background but have seen myself involved in age discrimination in the workplace," she said.

Unemployed, and with her husband, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, in a nursing home, Whitelaw's income is from Social Security benefits and food stamps of $35 a month.

She said she has sent out "hundreds and hundreds" of resumes and had 15 job interviews, with employers sometimes dissuading her from applying for various reasons, such as the physical demands of the job.

Whitelaw testified in front of the Senate Special Committee on Aging on Tuesday for a hearing called "Missed by the Recovery: Solving the Long Term Unemployment Crisis for Older Workers."

"I feel very passionate about it because I don't get a chance to talk about it," she said. "I know unemployment is high everywhere, but I'm not sure people are focused on the older worker and we have a lot to offer."

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age, for both employees and job applicants.  However, worker advocates say greater education and outreach is needed as employers continue to discriminate against the mature workforce.

While younger workers have had the highest unemployment since the start of the recession in 2007, older workers have seen the biggest increases in long-term unemployment.

By 2011, 55 percent of unemployed older workers had been actively seeking a job for 27 weeks or more, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The April GAO report stated that only a third of older workers displaced from 2007 to 2009 found full-time work by 2010.  Those who did had greater earnings losses than re-employed younger workers.

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