Reuters: "When Joe Burklund of Des Moines, Iowa, lost his job at the depths of recession in 2009 after 30 years in the advertising and marketing industry, he never imagined another career.
He was almost 60 and optimistic he would land another job in his field, where he was earning $65,000 a year.
After collecting unemployment checks for a year, Burklund took a part-time job at grocery chain Trader Joe's. As he watched his retirement savings bleed almost dry, he realized his situation would not turn around anytime soon.
An acquaintance suggested he train for call center work, servicing banks and insurance companies. "I said, 'Well, I may as well try that because nothing else seems to be working,'" Burklund told Reuters.
Thousands of Americans aged 55 and older are going back to school and reinventing themselves to get an edge in a difficult labor market, hoping to rebuild retirement nest eggs that were almost destroyed by the recession.
"I went into it thinking 'I am not too sure I am cut out for call center work,' and I never really wanted to sell insurance. But I was willing to try anything to gain full employment," said Burklund, who has set aside hopes to retire at 65.
Within two weeks of completing the program, he had three interviews and two job offers. In March, he started working at Marsh Insurance.
A similar tale is recounted by Tom Halseth, about 380 miles east in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. Halseth, 60, lost his job in May 2010 after 30 years as store manager with retail chain JC Penny. He spent 16 months unemployed.
Today, Halseth is a quality assurance technician with dried fruit packer Mariani Packing Company in Wisconsin Rapids. He landed the job after a rigorous five-month program that included biology, chemistry and math classes and a two-week internship.
According to the Federal Reserve, household financial assets, which exclude homes, dropped from a peak of $57 trillion in the third quarter of 2007 to just over $49 trillion in the fourth quarter of last year, the latest period for which data is available.
A survey to be released this summer by the Public Policy Institute of AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans, found a quarter of Americans 50 years and older used up all their savings during the 2007-09 recession. About 43 percent of the 5,000 respondents who took part in the survey said their savings had not recovered.
TOO YOUNG TO RETIRE
Many older workers who lost jobs during the downturn are too young to retire and usually would not be considered ideal for retraining.
Independent groups like the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, which is working with local communities and businesses to build skills and careers for workers and job seekers, are working to debunk that myth.
In the last four years, the Fund has helped about 1,860 Americans 55 years and older retrain for new jobs.
According to data from the Labor Department, 2.65 million people participated in its Workforce Investment Act programs in 2011. Those programs, which are also designed to help people find jobs, are separate from those run by independent groups like the National Fund for Workforce Solutions.
About 345,000, or 13 percent of participants in the Workforce Investment Act programs, were 55 years and older."