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Carol Paulus graduated from technical college in May with high hopes of landing a good paying job.
But unlike many of her classmates who have since collected their first paychecks, Paulus is still waiting at home for phone calls from prospective employers.
She's convinced that her age, 57, is the reason she remains unemployed while the 20-somethings get the jobs.
"I'm sending out six or eight resumes and cover letters per week," she said. "I've had two responses and one interview. I'm extremely frustrated. I'd love to find a job to apply what I've learned."
It's difficult to prove that age discrimination is a factor in her job search, Paulus admits, but the facts seem clear.
"They don't even ask you to come in and talk to them," she said. "When I go in, there's always a young person sitting there in that position."
Paulus did what the job search experts told her. She completed her GED (general equivalency diploma) and received her certificate in the office assistant program at Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College.
She enjoyed the opportunity to return to school, and appreciated learning much more than when she decided to drop out of high school decades earlier. Paulus even got involved in student government on the WITC campus, mentored younger students, won numerous awards and participated in the work study program to better prepare for her next career.
"I'd like to go back to school in the fall and get my accounting major or administrative assistant degree," she said. "But I'd have to expand my student loan and then I'd just go deeper in debt."
The optimism of graduation quickly faded, and life's challenges have progressively taken a greater toll.
Paulus and her roommate received an eviction notice in the mail last Wednesday, setting an Aug. 31 deadline for them to leave. They are about $5,000 behind in various bills.
"We love it here and we don't want to leave New Richmond," she said. "We're not asking for a million dollars. We live modestly and we struggle from day to day. We'd just like to keep our head above water."
Paulus has taken a part-time job to help pay a couple bills. She worked previously at a grocery store, but the paychecks never amounted to much.
"I'm used to supporting myself and I've been very self-sufficient," she said. "But you need two full-time incomes to keep your household going."
Paulus said she's tempted to go back to work as a waitress if something doesn't come along soon. She's also considering a sales job in the Twin Cities, even though she doesn't have the background that would ensure success in the field.
"I thought it was going to be a whole lot easier to find a job after I graduated," she said. "I'm hitting the same dead ends I hit before. The WITC certificate didn't mean anything for me."
The local Wisconsin Job Center was able to help Paulus repair her car so that she could travel safely to interviews, and to have reliable transportation if she ever lands a job.
But time seems to be running out, Paulus said, and she doesn't know where to turn.
"We have no idea what we're going to do," she said. "It's a struggle. It's been three years since we've both worked (full time) at the same time."
As she waits, Paulus fills her days with daily trips to the Job Center. She also does puzzles on a card table at home.
"It helps me block out all this stuff," she said. "I always look on the bright side. I can't let it get me down."
Paulus isn't the only older worker faced with a challenging job search. She reports that she went to school with several older students at WITC who are having the same problems.
Myrtle Spurlock, field operations assistant with the Experience Works program in Polk, St. Croix and Pierce counties, said many older workers have a tough time getting interviews.
Whether real or imagined, Spurlock said age discrimination is on the lips of everyone who comes to her office.
"There's quite a bit of that," she said. "They feel it's because of their age, because a lot of them are qualified but they don't get the jobs."
The Experience Works program goes to bat for older workers in the region. Spurlock meets with employers and outlines the numerous advantages of hiring a mature employee.
Among the selling points: Older workers are more reliable, punctual, committed to quality and require less training than most young employees.
"We can kind of put a foot in the door for them," Spurlock said. "But they also have to continue to look."
She works with about 10 clients a month within each county the program operates. Experience Works helps the prospective employees find a temporary job, then goes to work locating a better-paying, permanent position.
Dave Sharretts, Workforce coordinator at the New Richmond Job Center, said the description of "older worker" can apply to anyone over 40 years old these days.
The key to finding a new position, he claims, is education.
"Employers don't have the time to train a new employee," he said. "They want someone who can hop into the job and do it right away."
Another challenge for placing clients is the rising cost of gasoline, Sharretts said.
"The majority of the jobs are across the river," he said. "That drive is what's hard right now, because of the cost."
He encouraged anyone faced with a discouraging job search to scour internet and newspaper listings for openings. People also have to be willing to move to where the jobs are, he added.