By Gary A. Officer
Buffalo is one of those American cities for whom Labor Day, our last holiday of the summer season, was created. This is a city for, and of, workers. Throughout the 20th century, Buffalo stood as a colossus of manufacturing, providing grain, steel and motors to America and the world.
As the 20th century drew to a close, Buffalo experienced a massive economic decline due to de-industrialization. Foreclosures and abandonment brought decay to once-proud neighborhoods and former industrial centers.
By 2010, the unemployment rate in the city of Buffalo was almost 10%. However, even during the bleakest moments, Buffalo remained a proud city built by hard-working men and women.
In early August, I visited Buffalo for the first time in over a decade to visit Supportive Services Corp., a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping Erie County residents find gainful employment. During my visit, it was noticeable just how much change had occurred. Hope and optimism filled the warm summer air.
Buffalo’s renewal is a product of enlightened local political leadership across multiple agencies and jurisdictions. Government incentives attracted new employers, with an emphasis on creating skilled jobs within the manufacturing and health care sectors. New plants from Ford, General Motors, and Tesla have opened; while the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus has delivered thousands of new jobs.
Job growth has provided new opportunities for the region’s older workers to earn a middle-class wage once again. However, for many older workers, the pathway back into full-time employment can be a difficult journey. Older low-income workers often require the assistance of federal job programs like the Senior Community Service Employment Program to facilitate their return.
I met Jackie on my visit to Supportive Services Corp. A dynamic and energetic woman in her mid-60s, Jackie was forced back into the workforce following her recent divorce.
Jackie discovered the SCSEP program through friends. Her previous work had offered her few chances to use current technologies and the thought of having to use computers terrified her. However, with SCSEP and Supportive Services Corp., Jackie’s computer proficiency – and her confidence – began to improve.
With her improved computer skills, Jackie returned to college and completed her undergraduate degree. Today, Jackie is employed by Supportive Services Corp., serving as an inspiration to many older residents seeking to return to the workforce.
There is a Jackie in every community. As we celebrate Labor Day, let us remember to honor the contributions of older workers to the economic well-being of Buffalo and our nation.
Gary A. Officer is president and CEO of Senior Service America Inc.