Lynn McDonald has 15 years of experience in the hospitality business. She ran a bed-and-breakfast and restaurant in France in the mid-1990s. She owned a B&B in Hailey for six years, until it succumbed to the recession.
But when McDonald who is 68 but insists that she doesnt look it tried to get a job at Boise hotels over the past year and a half, it was as if someone hung out the No Vacancy sign.
She fashioned resumes and hand-delivered them so people could see her. I present very well at a front desk, she said.
She went online and completed employment forms.
McDonald landed interviews and had people tell her how good she was. She got callbacks.
They all ask your age, she said. I avoided that as long as I could.
Asking an applicants age isnt illegal, though employers who ask could be required to defend their decision in a discrimination case, said Pamela Parks, administrator for the Idaho Commission on Human Rights, which administers anti-discrimination laws in Idaho.
McDonald eventually gave her age and didnt get called back, even from the ones who thought I was perfect for the job.
McDonalds story isnt unique. Seniors are finding it tough to land jobs nationally. A study by AARP showed the average length of unemployment for those 55 and older was 60 weeks in April, compared with 39 weeks for younger workers.
Long periods of unemployment have become obstacles many seniors find difficult to overcome, said Aparna Mathur, a researcher with the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. Many businesses are reluctant to hire someone who has been out of the workforce for even seven or eight months.
But there are other obstacles. Hiring is an expensive process, and employers are looking for a stable workforce.
Many businesses are looking for a worker who has above-average production and who is going to be highly productive for a long period, Mathur said.
Against a bleak national picture, Idahos seniors have a relatively better fate.
In 2011, the average unemployment rate for workers 55-64 was 4.3 percent in Idaho, compared with 6.6 percent nationally. Among those 65 and older, Idahos unemployment rate was 2.9 percent, compared with 6.5 percent nationally.
Moreover, between 2007 and 2010, older workers were the only age group in the Idaho workforce to experience job growth, according to a study by Alivia Metts, a North Idaho regional labor economist with the Idaho Department of Labor.
Older workers made gains in manufacturing, retail and construction, which was one of the hardest-hit parts of the states economy.
Metts thinks job growth for seniors came in part from an increasing number of older workers returning to the workforce as the recession deepened. Their success might be the result of a willingness to work for less and a strong work ethic, she said.
The numbers also reflect an increasing number of older workers because baby boomers are still in the workforce. And in some cases, the constrained economy put downward pressure on businesses so that upper-level managers became middle managers, and middle managers took lower-level jobs.
But the data could reflect that companies that laid off people might have cut more deeply into younger ranks because older workers had more seniority or were in leadership positions, said Brian Greber, an adjunct professor of economics at Boise State University.
While the figures are better in Idaho, there are darker pictures of rejection for some seniors.
Both things are true, said Sharon OToole, a workforce consultant at the state Department of Labor office in Canyon County who helps older workers look for jobs.
In 2011, the department surveyed Canyon County residents who had been out of work for more than a year and asked about barriers to getting a job. Half of the 576 people who responded cited age.
Labor officials say they cant dismiss the perception that many older workers have about age. But they are concerned many are reaching for what seems to be an obvious answer when job searches dont succeed.
A lot of time, we put a barrier up because it is easer to handle rejection, said Bud Swanson, who works for the department in Boise helping out-of-work professionals try to find jobs.
Labor experts say older workers must remain relevant in the workplace, which is continually evolving. They must demonstrate they have the energy to work and arent telegraphing their ages with clues, such as how they dress and what they include in their resume.
Swanson advises against putting dates in resumes and including work experiences more than about 15 years old.
McDonald also sought jobs working with older people in retirement homes. She managed to land one and held it for a few weeks before getting a call and being told she would be replaced and her replacement turned out to be younger.
I am so young, McDonald said. Im not 68. I consider myself to be 49.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408