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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The worst U.S. economic recession in 70 years is forcing senior citizens out of retirement, leaving them fighting for jobs in a weak labor market or risk homelessness, according to a private study.
The study by Experience Works, released on Tuesday, showed 46 percent of the 2,000 low income people over 55 years who participated needed to find work to keep their homes. Nearly half of them had been searching for work for more than a year.
Experience Works is the nation's largest nonprofit provider of community service, training and employment opportunities for older workers. The study was conducted in the past two months and covered 30 states and Puerto Rico.
"These people are at the age where they understandably thought their job-searching years were behind them," said Cynthia Metzler, president and CEO of Experience Works.
"But here they are, many in their 60s, 70s and beyond, desperate to find work so they can keep a roof over their heads and food on the table."
According to the study, many of the participants had no intention of working past their 60th birthday, but had to change plans after being laid off or following the death of a spouse. Over a third of the participants had retired.
Ninety percent of respondents 76 years and older planned to continue working for the next five years.
Huge medical bills due to a personal illness or that of a spouse were also reasons for coming out of retirement, the survey found. The longest and deepest economic slump since the 1930s is making finding a job for the low-income elderly workers a difficult challenge.
According to Labor Department data, there were 2 million unemployed workers over the age of 55 in August, an increase of 69 percent from the same period last year. Between August 2008 and August this year, the number of unemployed workers 75 years and older increased by 33 percent.
The unemployment rate among workers 55 years and older was 6.7 percent in August after shooting to a record 7.1 percent in July. The national unemployment rate was at 9.7 percent in August, the highest in 26 years.
The Experience Works study found that 46 percent of the elderly jobseekers were sometimes forced to choose between paying rent, buying food or medication. Almost three-quarters believed their age made it harder to compete for jobs with younger workers.
"This study underscores the need to create policies that remove barriers to employment for older workers and provide additional programs and services specifically aimed at helping older people re-enter the work force or remain working," said Metzler.
Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Dan Grebler