A recession doesn’t take a holiday, but this month’s succession of Jewish holidays has delayed the full effect of the economic crisis in New York City’s Jewish community, say representatives of the largest Jewish-sponsored employment counseling and referral organization.
Wait until next month.
“Come November, we’re going to see a huge difference” in the number of members of Jewish community who have lost jobs or realize the extent of their investment losses, says Gail Magaliff, chief executive officer of the FEGS Health and Human Services System. “All the jobs the city will be cutting haven’t been cut yet.”
Jews who were busy preparing for yom tov or traveling or worshiping will face the full extent of their new financial situation in the coming
weeks, and FEGS has already started to offer a series of employment seminars.
“It’s going to be a very telling month,” says Meryl Kordower, FEGS’ associate vice president.
And it will be more telling — and stressful — for older workers.
In ordinary circumstances, people middle-aged and above find themselves at a disadvantage in the job market, competing against younger candidates who are more mobile, more tech-savvy and more willing to accept a meager starting salary.
A recession exacerbates this.
“It’s going to be tougher for anybody,” Kordower says. “It’s going to be much more competitive.”
A staff member of FEGS for two decades, Kordower tells of one Manhattan woman — Kordower uses the pseudonym Anne Levine — who is “over 70,” who lost her job recently in the business world, and who called FEGS for help in finding a new position.
Levine has the right combination of ability and confidence, and should have been easy to place, probably in a sales job, Kordower says. But, for personal reasons, Levine put her job search on hold for a while, and resumed after the credit crisis hit, the worst possible time.
Now it will be more difficult for Levine, Kordower says.
Magaliff says the number of calls she has received for employment leads has doubled in recent weeks — many of the calls were from older baby boomers. “With the financial crisis,” he says, “suddenly the baby boomers are not going to be able to retire.”
“People are scared,” she says.
“Older people are very fearful today,” says Alfred Miller, FEGS executive consultant.
FEGS, formerly known as the Federation Employment and Guidance Service, has worked with a growing number of middle-aged job seekers in the last few years, Kordower said, but the number of post-retirement-age people who staying in the work force — or trying to stay — in the current depressed economic climate is on the rise too.
More and more people from the generation born after World War II are coming to the FEGS offices in the New York area, she said. They say things like, “You helped me in 1960, and I need to find another job.” Or, “You found my father a job. Do you still do this?”
The Brooklyn-based Fresh Start Training Program, a division of Agudath Israel of America, also reports an increase in the number of 50-something-plus women it serves — widows, divorcees and other displaced homemakers — who are entering for the first time or re-entering the job market after a long time away.
Both agencies work on a nonsectarian basis, but attract a disproportionate number of unemployed people from the Jewish community.
FEGS’ new concentration on this age group includes the year-old Vital Aging program, geared to the unique employment needs of people 55 and older, which is funded by UJA-Federation and offers workshops and seminars at local Y’s and JCC’s; and parnossahworks.org, an online program developed by FEGS also operates along with the Orthodox Union and several synagogues of all denominations, and which is now operated by Jewish Vocational Service agencies in the United States and Canada. The AARP Foundation recently named FEGS its first nationally certified Work Search Center, providing FEGS additional resources for workers over 40 seeking new careers or jobs.
Emigres, who constitute an estimated 20 percent of New York City’s Jewish community, often have the most problems because “their education and their [academic] degrees are not transferable” in this country, says Joseph Lazar, interim CEO of NYANA, whose programs for newcomers are being transferred to FEGS. “That, for any age, is a major barrier.”
“It’s harder for everyone” today, says Virginia Cruickshank, FEGS’ senior vice president — more people are applying for fewer jobs. “Right now it’s an employer’s market.”
“People are working longer,” Cruickshank says, either because they enjoy their work or they need the income and other benefits. Fewer firms today impose mandatory retirement ages, she adds. “These are people who never experienced joblessness.” Suddenly unemployed, “they delayed coming to us,” until their own efforts bear no results.
“People are living longer,” remaining active and employed “well into their 70s and 80s,” says Magaliff. “They’re not going to just go out and play golf.”
Miller compares today’s job market to the era of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the mechanization of many labor-intensive fields left major sections of the workforce out of jobs. “A lot of people are finding themselves unemployed or underemployed in their prime of life,” Miller said.
Once, employers passed over candidates who had too little experience. Today, Kordower said, older people may lose out because they “have too much experience.”
It’s “ageism,” discrimination against the older prospective employee, who has more life experience than younger people and a record of dependability, but it’s hard to prove.
Many employers “would rather have a young, perky college student around,” says Vivian Hochbaum, a social worker at Fresh Start, the New York State Department of Labor-funded, 30-year-old program that is based in a modest suite of offices in a converted private home in Flatbush.
“We get the real hard-core people,” those with no job history and few marketable skills, said Rachel Perl, Fresh Start director.
In addition to standard counseling services, Fresh Start offers computer training, referrals to medical and legal help, mock employment interviews, advice in such areas as nutrition and makeup, and guidance in learning to emphasize their own needs. “Till now everyone else came first,” Perl said. “Now it’s time for them.”
The Fresh Start aid also is a plus for women looking for a mate, Perl said. “You become much more attractive on the dating scene if you’re out there working.”
FEGS, founded in 1934 by the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, also provides a wide variety of services, including skills assessment, career counseling, group career training and job placement and referral.
Places willing to hire older workers range from pharmacies, bookstores and grocery stores, to small social service agencies and schools, according to spokesmen for FEGS and Fresh Start.
Spokesmen for FEGS (www.fegs.org,  366-8400) and Fresh Start (firstname.lastname@example.org;  338-9200) say people looking for work who have the right skills and the right attitude usually end up getting job offers, no matter their age. Both programs offer their services free of charge. Clients of both programs, who often are willing to accept part-time work, learn to network among their acquaintances, update their resumes, consider employment in new fields, and turn to the Internet.
“If you’re a baby boomer, you’re looking at [your employment prospects] very differently, Magaliff says. “The networking is going to be much more difficult. The job market is going to be different.”