Seniors Scan 'Help Wanted' Ads

Doris Fisher CBS

This is the seventh in a month-long series of reports called "Making Ends Meet" about how families are coping with the tough economy, unemployment and smaller retirement accounts.

Doris Fisher thought that by now, at age 77, she'd be living out her golden years in a house by the sea.

She worked hard, "all my life," she says. She saved money and thought she'd retire.

The problem is, as CBS News Correspondent Bobbi Harley reports, she can't afford to. After decades as an independent small business owner, the stock market and a divorce wiped her out.

"There were times when I either had to give up groceries or prescriptions," says Fisher.

So like a record 4.5 million other older Americans, Fisher has been pushed back into the job market. She's been left with no choice but to look for help from job counselors like Leon Ruttenburg, who specializes in senior citizens.

When asked how many people seek his help each day, Ruttenburg, 69, says, "Well, let's see, today we had two, four, six, eight, ten - ten calls today." And that's only by lunchtime.

Ruttenburg knows it all too well. Not long ago he was the one calling. His wife Ethel's illness not only took her life, but drained his bank account. After a career in property management with a salary topping out near six figures, he found himself frantic for a job.

Desperate, he took a job that paid $4.75 an hour.

Ruttenburg went to the American Association of Retired Persons, which has one of the few programs for seniors that offers training to get back to work. Now he's running the local chapter and helping thousands of others look for work.

"I wish I could pull an answer out of a hat, or get on the Internet and get an answer," he says. "I don't think there is an answer."

Even now as more and more seniors are working minimum wage jobs, the future may get even worse, thanks to the market downturn: just as the first big wave of baby boomers is getting ready to retire.

"It's a very demeaning way to live out their lives," says Edward Coyle, who heads the Alliance of Retired Americans.

"The baby boomers who are approaching retirement are quite frankly panicked.

"They see their parents … their next door neighbor, who they've known all their life, having to get work in a burger chain to make ends meet."

Ruttenburg is thankful he's got a job and has no plans to retire for now. As for Fisher, she's just hopeful she'll find work.

"I think I'll be fine," she says. "Like I said, I'm a positive thinker or a dreamer.

"I don't know which."

She'll take whichever one pays the bills.
  • Jaime Holguin

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