'I just want a job': Older and out of work in Calgary

The numbers show that older, unemployed Albertans are finding work and some are even earning more money. But not everyone over the age of 55 is on the road to recovery.

Sense of desperation for older workers who feel left out of Alberta's economic recovery

Stan Bell, 58, and Pamela Graf, 61, have been looking for permanent, full-time jobs for approximately two years. They feel they've been losing out on opportunities because of their age. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Alberta's economy is recovering, more of us are working, some are earning more and fewer are collecting EI. 

But some older workers feel they're being passed over as the economy starts to pick up steam.

Stan Bell has sent out 237 resumes since he lost his job in October 2016.  He used to work in the IT sector as a server administrator earning more than $100,000 a year.

Last week, the 58-year-old received his final EI cheque. 

"It shakes your confidence, it shakes your sense of identity and worth," he said. "It makes you question your value as a contributor [to society]."

He wonders whether he has anything left to contribute. 

Bell says his age is working against him. He says younger people have landed the jobs that he's applied for. 

"I've tried to figure out what I'm doing wrong, I've asked various headhunters and job placement people," he said.

"The response is that the hardest people to place are people under 25 and people over 50. People over 50 in a lot of ways are discriminated against," Bell said. 

'I'm not ready to retire'

Pamela Graf's next move may involve selling her townhouse in southeast Calgary. She hasn't held a steady, permanent full-time job in two years and feels time is running out to find work — and pay off her debts. 

She has a mortgage and has been drawing from her line of credit and retirement savings. 

"Sometimes it's so overwhelming that if I got caught up in that, I'd get into a depression that wouldn't be good," said Graf.

The 61-year-old has an MBA and specializes in helping businesses grow and plan for the future. She's trying to remain positive and upbeat but admits the job search and feelings of gloom and self-doubt are "like an anchor that drags you down."

"I'm not ready to retire, I'm physically fit, energetic. It would be a real shame for me to retire now," said Graf. 

Older workers finding work

The numbers from Statistics Canada show more older workers are finding a job — 42.8 per cent of men and women over the age of 55 are working. That's up slightly from the bottom of the recession. The unemployment rate for that demographic fell from 9.3 per cent in late 2016 to 6.8 per cent last month.

Since the beginning of last year, 30,000 more men and women over the age of 55 are working full-time in Alberta. The total number of employed people in that group is 359,200.

(Trevor Tombe/University of Calgary)

The number of unemployed Albertans aged 55-plus dipped to 33,000 in April, down from 41,900 at the beginning of 2017.

Pamela Graf and Stan Bell are reluctant to believe a recovery is underway — because they feel left out. 

"I don't see it, I don't see any of the people I know going back to work," said Graf.

'Recovery does not mean recovered'

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe says Alberta has yet to reach pre-recession levels of employment.

"Recovery is underway … the employment prospects even of older workers is improving relative to the bottom of the recession, but it still has some ways to go. So recovery does not mean recovered," said Tombe.

Tombe says that while more older people are working, there are significant challenges for anyone who's been unemployed more than six months.

Trevor Tombe is an associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary and a research fellow at the School of Public Policy. (Submitted by Trevor Tombe)

"If you're unemployed for six months or more, that's generally when skills start to depreciate, employers begin to look at other candidates rather than those who have been unemployed for a long period of time," said Tombe.

He says it's particularly tough for older workers who are trying to bridge the gap between the final years of their career and retirement. He says every month counts in terms of ensuring there's enough retirement savings available for them.

Pamela Graf spends some of her downtime sketching, painting and writing. She's written three children's books and is hoping to get them published. She says it's a huge stress reliever from the daily grind of sending out resumes and not hearing back. It's a nice diversion, but she still wants to be able to put her education to use as a business administrator.

"I don't want to be on EI, I want to pull [my] own weight. I don't want charity, I just want a job," said Graf.

As an out-of-work IT worker, Stan Bell fears that his skills will become outdated.

Photography is one of his passions and he's looking at turning his hobby into a source of income. But he's still hoping to land a job in IT. 

"I've got lots of skills, I'm still a young guy in my mind. I've got lots to offer," said Bell.


Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.

About the Author

Bryan Labby

Enterprise reporter

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.