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AARP Foundation Helps Low-Income Older Women Achieve Economic Stability

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More than 20 million Americans age 50 and over do not have adequate income to meet their basic needs for food and housing, with older women especially vulnerable to falling into poverty[PP1] . Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grantee the AARP Foundation is helping these low-income older adults seek and secure employment and manage their finances so they and their families can be more financially stable.

AARP Foundation, a separate charitable affiliate of AARP, serves vulnerable people 50+ by creating and advancing effective solutions to secure the essentials. The Foundation has identified four priority areas where action, supported by vigorous legal advocacy, will have the greatest impact: hunger, income, housing and isolation. For the income priority area, the Foundation seeks to improve employment opportunities for low-wage workers over the age of 50, many of whom have experienced long-term unemployment or limited job prospects in the most recent recession.

Through its BACK TO WORK 50+ initiative, the AARP Foundation connects these older workers to employment opportunities and helps them better manage their income. The Foundation works with community colleges to recruit workers age 50+ and provide them with targeted training, employment assistance, and financial coaching.

The colleges host information sessions where job candidates age 50+ can learn how to upgrade their skills, find jobs, and get support while they look for work. They also coordinate with local employers, workforce boards, and service providers to generate employment opportunities for older workers and pre-screened, qualified candidates to fill them.

The BACK TO WORK 50+ program was the result of a rigorous design process, notes Emily Allen, the AARP Foundation’s Vice President for Income Impact. “We take a human-centered design approach to crafting solutions that meet the needs of our audience, low income adults age 50+. We define innovation where our audience leads us.”

Originally launched in 2013 as a demonstration project in Denver, Colorado, the program was piloted in early 2014 at two community colleges in New Mexico and Florida with support from the Walmart Foundation. After yielding promising results, in September of 2014 the SIF awarded the AARP Foundation $3 million to grow and evaluate the BACK TO WORK 50+ model at community colleges in selected states, with a special emphasis on recruiting and serving older women.

Called BACK TO WORK 50+: Women’s Economic Stability Initiative, the expanded program will be delivered in high-poverty, high-unemployment locales by five community colleges recently selected by the AARP Foundation as its SIF subgrantees:

  • Austin Community College, Austin, TX;
  • Central New Mexico College, Albuquerque, NM;
  • Eastern Florida State College, Cocoa, FL;
  • Santa Fe College, Gainesville, FL; and
  • Santa Fe Community College, Santa Fe, NM.

The AARP Foundation will leverage its expertise on the employment and income needs of older workers to help subgrantees and their partners find and serve participants, who have often been underserved by traditional job-training and employment programs.

“There are not a lot of incentives in community colleges and workforce boards to prioritize the customer’s experience moving through these systems, or to understand the unique needs of special populations such as older adults,” said Lori Strauss, BACK TO WORK 50+ program manager at the AARP Foundation. “We provide the special assistance people need to move through the system and find employment.”

As a new SIF grantee, the AARP Foundation is focused on building systems and processes to support its subgrantees as the BACK TO WORK 50+: Women’s Economic Stability Initiative is scaled and evaluated. The AARP Foundation will utilize its in-house reporting system, the Foundation Impact System, with its subgrantees to collect and share data and make timely decisions about program adjustments. It will also manage participant recruitment using AARP advertising resources and a call center with a 1-800 number.

“We wanted to create a consistent pipeline and entry point into our subgrantees,” said Strauss, “and create a consistent customer experience for participants. By taking on the recruitment burden, we can manage the customer experience and allow the subgrantees to focus on programming.”

In the area of evaluation, the AARP Foundation will benefit from the familiarity its community college subgrantees have with evaluation concepts and practices.

“Our subgrantees have evaluation knowledge and resources,” said Joscelyn Silsby, the AARP Foundation’s Senior Advisor for Evaluation, “they already have data-entry systems, data-security procedures, and institutional review boards. Our challenge is to align their practices and capacities with ours.”

The AARP Foundation has reached several internal milestones for program start-up, and is looking forward to receiving the first progress reports from its subgrantees in the weeks ahead.

Additional information about the AARP Foundation’s SIF project can be found online.

 

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