BRADENTON -- Bill Dupont has worked his entire life in a variety of jobs from sales to courier services. He’s even worked as an armored guard.
Now at 58, the Bradenton man is just struggling to find a job to pay his bills.
When Dupont was laid off from his position of 16 years with a local surfacing company in early 2008, he wasn’t financially ready to retire. But he didn’t think it would take him long to land a new job.
Now he earns minimum wage as a part-time custodian as part of a federal employment program and his dreams of eventual retirement are slipping further and further away.
“At this point in my life, nothing is beneath my dignity,” Dupont said. “There’s just nothing else out there.”
The sputtering economy has thrown a wrench into retirement plans for many aging residents in the Manatee-Sarasota area.
There was a time when seniors in Southwest Florida could survive on small fixed-incomes garnered from Social Security or a pension. No more.
The rising cost of housing, food and health care has more seniors looking for work, joining an unemployment rate in Manatee hovering at 10.2 percent.
Because many choosey employers favor applicants who are tech savvy, some seniors have instead been forced to lean on food and housing assistance programs.
“Unfortunately a lot of people are in this situation,” said Bob Yakubisin, area director for AARP’s Foundation WorkSearch, a job placement program for low-income seniors. “It’s a real challenge.”
AARP locally administers the little known Senior Community Service Employment program, first established by Congress in the 1970s and given a funding boost from President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan.
The program was designed to retrain retirees on essential job skills lost since they were last punching a timecard. Today, that means a heavy emphasis on technology.
AARP connects recession-battered seniors with a host agency -- usually a nonprofit or government job -- where they can earn minimum wage 18 hours a week. The federal government picks up the tab.
Yakubisin said the program helps area nonprofits by offering free labor, while giving seniors essential on-the-job training. The idea is they’ll eventually find another permanent position that’s not taxpayer subsidized.
Those who participate must be over age 55, continually look for work and earn under $13,613 a year, not including temporary unemployment compensation.
“We’re trying to teach them anything that will give them an edge,” Yakubisin said. “For a lot of seniors, technology is the starting point, but it’s also about learning how to follow a schedule and be a good employee again.”
But while demand has grown to all-time highs, the program’s operating dollars are shrinking.
In the St. Petersburg-Bradenton region, some 265 employees last year were working for a host agency. Cuts have forced AARP to scale that count down to 98, leaving a lengthy waiting period of several months.
The trend has created a trickle effect, and now many of the same seniors struggling to secure stable income also are turning to food pantries and shelters for help, social service agencies said.
Seniors are turning to food pantries and soup kitchens for help at alarming rates, said Nicole Double, interim executive director of the All Faiths Food Bank in Sarasota.
The organization has seen request for assistance among seniors jump nearly 20 percent this year.
“Seniors and kids are the fastest growing demographics that need assistance,” Double said. “We have seen a huge increase in the number of seniors reaching for help for the first time.”
Josh Salman, Herald business writer can be reached at 941-745-7095.