But after the job fair at the library, McQueen, who lives in Southeast Washington, said he was “very disappointed” and felt misled by the pre-screening event.
He said he was told that there would be supervisors at the fair to conduct interviews and possibly hire him on the spot. McQueen said he instead received brochures and giveaway pens and was directed to apply online.
“I think that was like, a publicity stunt,” McQueen said. “I could do better on my own.”
James Moore, a deputy director and the chief economist at the employment services agency, said such events are part of a process and that employers might not have hired workers immediately at the job fair.
The agency will continue to work with job seekers to help them find employment, Moore said. “Overall, the event was a success,” he said. “We knew going in that it’s a tough labor market.”
In recent years, the Department of Employment Services has seen its share of management problems, both in the current administration and the previous one. The agency’s first director under Gray left the post after three months, after being linked to two personnel controversies in the mayor’s new administration.
The current director, Lisa Mallory, took over last year after nearly three decades in the private, public and nonprofit sectors, and she has taken steps to improve the agency’s operations.
Mallory said many older workers are trying to re-enter the workforce or stay in it longer. As life spans increase and living costs rise while the economy falls, older workers are unsure their retirement savings can hold out. But Mallory said she didn’t believe older workers face more problems than workers of any other age.
“They’re not faring any worse as a group than others,” Mallory said.
Unemployment is a national issue, and the District is facing the same challenges as cities across the country, Mallory said. “A lot of it is the economy,” she said. “It’s a nationwide challenge and a real problem.”
But experts say the District presents unique obstacles for older workers.
“Any sort of typical competitive disadvantage an older worker might face anywhere . . . are amplified in D.C.’s highly competitive job market,” said Ed Lazere, executive director for the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, which studies budget and tax issues in the District.
“Because we have such a talented labor force, the people with the highest degrees and the most advanced skills” are most likely to get a job, Lazere said. “For everyone else, it’s just really hard.”
Often residents with college degrees can’t find work in their fields, so they turn to jobs for which they’re overqualified, Lazere said. That leaves the less-educated segment of the workforce scrambling.
In an analysis of 2010 census data, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute found that the District has the third-highest level of income inequality among cities across the country. This disparity contributes to a higher unemployment rate overall in the city, Lazere said.
Of the 212 people 55 and older who registered with employment services earlier this year, 43 percent had a high school diploma or equivalent, 28 percent had some college experience and 21 percent held an associate’s, bachelor’s or masters degree.
Even those with college degrees are finding it difficult to get back into the job market, said Thomas of the Office on Aging, which typically serves 400 to 500 people each year.
The biggest increase he’s seen during the past two years is among retired professionals looking for white-collar work, which is often more challenging to find.
But they’re not alone in the search for white-collar work. Younger people are looking for those jobs, too, Thomas said.
China took it upon herself to stay afloat after failing to find a job in human resources. Two years ago, she began a small baking business.
“At this age, I had to reinvent myself,” China said. “And that’s how I’ve been surviving in this madness.”
Her business has succeeded with its $15-to-$18 cakes, but she’s still looking for a human resources job. This time, it’s to allow her baking business to grow.
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed research to this report.