Job Training and So Much More for Low-Income Older Adults: The Senior Community Services Employment Program

Abstract: An important anti-poverty program for older Americans is facing a serious problem: The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) was deemed “ineffective” by the Department of Labor. The department’s 2020 budget, in fact, proposes the program’s elimination. SCSEP, which places low-income adults aged 55 and older with multiple barriers to work in on-the-job training in nonprofit and public agencies while providing a modest stipend, has the goal of helping participants to transition into unsubsidized, gainful employment. Yet measures used to determine the program’s effectiveness focus solely on employment outcomes, ignoring important outcomes related to health and social engagement. This commentary advocates for the preservation of SCSEP by countering the view that it is purely an employment intervention for low-income older adults. We describe the complexity of the program and the people it serves and argue that using select measures that do not encompass the breadth of SCSEP’s benefits creates an inaccurate appearance of ineffectiveness. We conclude with recommendations for SCSEP administrators and grantees, social workers, and others to enhance the promise of this important program.

The American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare has identified the need to increase opportunities for productive engagement in later life—often defined as working and volunteering—as one of the “grand challenges” for society (Morrow-Howell et al. 2015). While an important goal for the larger older adult population, having opportunities to engage in paid and unpaid work is especially important for those most likely to be excluded from these roles, including low-income and unemployed older adults. It is this population that the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) serves.

This commentary advocates for the preservation of SCSEP by countering the view that it is purely an employment intervention for low-income older adults. We describe the complexity of the program and the people it serves and highlight how using select measures that do not encompass the breadth of SCSEP’s benefits creates a false appearance of ineffectiveness. We conclude with recommendations for SCSEP administrators and grantees, social workers, and others to enhance the promise of this important program.

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