Older Workers:

Employment Assistance Focuses on Subsidized Jobs and Job Search, but Revised Performance Measures Could Improve Access to Other Services

GAO-03-350: Published: Jan 24, 2003. Publicly Released: Jan 24, 2003.

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Some economists predict that by 2030, the United States could experience a labor shortage of 35 million workers. As the shortage approaches, one option available is to encourage people to work beyond traditional retirement ages, especially because people who are age 55 or older will constitute nearly a third of the poppulation. Accordingly, increasing demands will be made on the workforce development system to help ensure that older workers are provided opportunities to help address the anticipated labor shortage. Concerned that the existing workforce development system may not meet the needs of older workers, the Subcommittee's Ranking Minority Member asked GAO to determine the extent that older workers are enrolled in federal employment and training programs, what services are provided, and how performance measures affect such services.

About 12 percent of the 1.3 million older people who were not working and wanted a job were enrolled in these programs between July 2000 and June 2001. Some older workers received services without being enrolled in a program but these people were not counted in program statistics. The majority of older people enrolled received subsidized jobs through the Senior Community Service Employment Program. About one-third participated in programs funded by the Workforce Investment Act and Trade Adjustment Assistance. Most of the older workers enrolled in these programs received job search assistance, such as help in preparing for interviews and writing resumes, but some also received job training. Research findings have been inconsistent as to whether older workers have distinct learning needs, but Workforce Investment Act program providers are less likely now than in the past to have separate programs for older workers. The Workforce Investment Act requires program providers to report certain information so that Labor can determine how well programs are performing. These performance measures include how many participants find jobs and how much their earnings have increased. Program providers report that some performance measures provide a disincentive to enrolling older workers into the program because of employment characteristics that may negatively affect program performance. For example, in 6 of 10 the local areas we visited, officials said they considered performance measures a barrier to enrolling older workers seeking part-time jobs because they would have lower earnings and therefore reduce program performance. Consequently, some older workers may only receive job search assistance and not have access to in-depth services, such as computer training.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On February 17, 2006, Labor issued a training employment guidance letter that modified the earnings measures so that pre-and post-program earnings were no longer used. Labor officials stated that they have received tremendous support for this change, which has enhanced the opportunity for older workers to be served through the one-stop career centers.

    Recommendation: In light of concerns that older workers have unique employment characteristics that could adversely affect certain program outcomes and that older workers who need in-depth job search assistance and job training to remain in, or re-enter, the workforce may not receive such services, the Secretary of Labor should assess Workforce Investment Act (WIA) performance measures and make adjustments as necessary to eliminate the disincentive to enrolling older workers in WIA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor


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