WASHINGTON - Gail Ruggles of Newark, Vt., couldn't find work after belatedly getting a college degree at 56.
The phrase "at your age" came up frequently in conversations, a sad reminder of her long-shot prospects for employment, she testified at a Senate subcommittee hearing Tuesday.
Ruggles fell deeper in debt and turned down the thermostat at home. She told her children she wasn't hungry so they would have more to eat.
"I gained weight from poor eating," Ruggles, now 61, told lawmakers on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee on aging. "I knew I looked bad, and that made my chances of getting a job worse."
Her predicament is common among unemployed people 55 and older, according to a Government Accountability Office report released during Tuesday's hearing regarding seniors and the recession.
Since 2007, unemployment rates for those people have doubled and have remained above pre-recession levels, the report said. At the same time, household incomes have fallen and medical costs have increased.
Unemployment rates for other age groups are even higher, but older workers who lost their jobs were less likely to find new ones, according to the report
"They may have skill issues with shifting to another job," testified Barbara Bovbjerb, of the GAO. "They also, frankly, have employer issues. Employers will not always look to hire older people."
The percentage of adults who began drawing Social Security benefits at age 62 rose during the recession, as did awards of Social Security Disability Benefits and applications for Supplemental Security Income benefits. Social Security and other benefits played a role in keeping those 65 and older out of poverty, according to the report.