The US population is ageing rapidly. It is reported that over the decade from 2005 to 2015, the population of people aged 65 and over increased by 30 percent from 36.6 million to 47.8 million, and it is projected to more than double to 98 million by 2060, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. The number of Americans aged 45 to 64 – who will reach 65 over the next two decades – increased by 14.9 percent between 2005 and 2015.
Exclusion from the labour market is one of the key challenges facing this demographic group, often leading to poverty and social isolation. Even though the full retirement age for social security purposes in the US is currently set at 66 years, people over 55 often struggle to find employment. In 2013, 1.3 million Americans aged over 55 were actively seeking work. A survey conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons Public Policy Institute found that half of those who had experienced unemployment between 2010 and 2014 were still not working at the end of that five-year period.
The institute also reported that many mature workers are discouraged from looking for work, as they believe that employers will find them too old, that they lack the necessary education and training, or they will face other types of discrimination. The exclusion from the labour market is particularly problematic because employment is, for many older Americans, a way to escape loneliness and poverty. Even though the official poverty rate for adults aged over 64 was 10 percent in 2014, the lowest of any age group, alternative measures of economic wellbeing tell a different story.
The Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) puts the 2014 poverty rate among older adults at 14.4 percent. High out-of-pocket healthcare expenses, such as payments for prescription drugs, contribute to higher poverty rates for older Americans under the SPM. Social isolation is another problem for this age group. Almost half of older women (46 percent) aged 75 or more live alone. The National Council of Aging therefore suggests that while the “reasons they [adults aged 55 or above] work are varied,… for many it’s a matter of necessity to remain financially secure and independent [and to] stay active and engaged in their communities”.
These trends can also be observed in the Midwestern state of Ohio. In 2015, 15.2 percent of the state’s population was aged over 65, and this proportion will continue to grow over the next 20 years. Between 2015 and 2030, 40 percent of people will be over 50 years old. In 2016, the poverty rate for of the Ohio population groups 55-64, 65-74, and 75 plus stood at 10.8 percent, 7.5 percent and 9.0 percent respectively, aligning with national poverty rates for this age group. In 2013, 30 percent of Ohio residents aged 60 and above were living alone and 24 percent received food stamps. The challenge for Ohio and the US more widely is therefore to help people aged 55 and above to overcome financial stress and social isolation through work and training programmes.
Vantage Ageing (then called ‘Mature Services’), a not-for-profit agency, was founded in 1975 with the goal of tackling the issues of unemployment, poverty and social isolation among the ageing population of Ohio. It developed a range of programmes to ensure that older adults could remain independent in their homes and active in their communities. In December 2017, Mature Services changed its name to Vantage Aging to reflect its stated purpose of improving ‘”the quality of life of people who are aging through collaboration and wellness”.
While Vantage helps people in this age group through a variety of activities, it developed the Workforce Solutions and the Volunteering RSVP Programme to deal with the particular challenges of old-age unemployment and social isolation. The Workforce Solutions programme was set up with four key purposes:
- Providing the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) in 38 counties. SCSEP is funded by the Department of Labor and the Ohio Department of Aging and promotes the self-sufficiency of mature workers. Through the SCSEP, Workforce Solutions connect low-income, unemployed adults aged 55 and over to paid job training at community-based and government agencies. These agencies are able to build their capacity with SCSEP support.
- Providing a resource room with computers and access to a variety of jobseeking tools, including job postings.
- Running the “Encore Staffing Network”, a not-for-profit social enterprise. Funded in part by The Cleveland Foundation, Encore provides placement of older workers who want to stay engaged in the workforce while dedicating their skills and talents to a variety of employers. Encore also promotes efforts to engage people in later life, for instance through volunteering, to benefit society. The Encore Staffing Network draws upon the expertise, passion and talents of people aged 50 and over in Cuyahoga and Summit County. It also aims to assign professionals aged 50 and over to paid, part-time positions at not-for-profits and government agencies.
- Running the Job Club, which provided training in job readiness, résumé building and jobseeking skills via a complimentary three weeks of classroom training. It was discontinued in 2017 due to funding cuts.
The Vantage/RSVP Programme matches adults 55 and up to volunteer opportunities. It is part of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), one of the largest volunteer networks in the US for people 55 and over. RSVP itself is a programme of Senior Corps, which is funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency for volunteer service. It has the dual purpose of engaging persons 55 and older in volunteer service to meet critical community needs and to provide a high quality experience that will enrich the lives of volunteers. Vantage/RSVP volunteers choose how, where, and how often they want to serve to support the most critical needs of our communities served by volunteering with not-for-profit agencies with a special focus on addressing food insecurity and helping to reduce senior isolation.
The public impact
Vantage’s programmes have had some impact in bringing Ohio’s citizens aged 55 years and older into employment and reducing their social isolation. From 2013 to 2016, Vantage achieved a relatively constant level of community engagement and employment and training provision.
With regard to the Vantage/RSVP programme, which aims to involve senior citizens in volunteering activities, Vantage reported the following:
- In 2013/14, 242 volunteers provided 26,966 hours of service to 15 not-for-profit agencies.
- In 2015, the number of volunteers increased to 305, while the hours provided declined to 20,141; 17 not-for-profits benefited from the service.
- In 2016, the number of participating not-for-profits shrank to 13, while the volunteer base declined only insignificantly to 300. Together they provided 18, 245 hours of community service, significantly less than in the two preceding years.
- For 2016, Vantage also recorded the qualitative impact of its RSVP programme. It found that 98 percent of volunteers had enjoyed meeting new friends and 76 volunteers agreed that they had made a difference to their communities.
For the Workforce Solution programme, the following impact was recorded:
- In 2013/14, SCSEP trainees provided 640,774 hours of community service to 410 agencies in 40 counties in Ohio. 1,131 trainees enrolled in part-time work experience, with 186 transitioning into unsubsidised employment. 1,173 job readiness activities served 874 individuals and 6,294 visits by jobseekers were made to the resource room. 550 job seekers and 37 companies attended job fairs.
- In 2015, the level of trainees enrolled in part-time experiences remained stable at 1,143. 5,515 older adults were served in the recourse room and 13,706 training hours were provided to jobseekers. 95 job club alumni, of an overall 135 job club participants, were placed in employment.
- In 2016, Vantage recorded 14,348 hours of work training and 692,826 service hours aiding not-for-profits. Additionally, it provided 3,732 training hours via the Job Club, which resulted in 31 participants finding employment. It also generated 6,621 hours of expertise to not-for-profits from 24 participants in the Encore programme. 14,830 people used the resources room and 141 people found employment as a result of the job training at host sites.
Written by Mirjam Buedenbender
This case study is part of a series of international policies that focus on easing the transition to retirement and later life. The case studies and the accompanying report were produced for the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch).
Public Confidence Strong
Vantage has not attracted a high level of attention from the general public and has little media coverage. However, when it does enter public discourse, its services are discussed in a positive light. For example, when local news outlets reported on Senator Sykes’s visit to the Meals on Wheels site in Akron, Ohio, they praised his support for the programme. Confidence among the members of the public who are helped by Vantage’s services (Ohio’s senior citizens) appears to be high. Vantage’s history of more than 40 years demonstrates this strong and lasting support.
The stakeholders Vantage cites on its own website and in its annual reports reflect this positive assessment. For example, a client of Workforce Solutions is cited in the 2013/14 annual report as saying: “I just wanted to express thanks from my heart to the staff at Mature Services. I cannot put into words what you have done for my self-confidence and the improvements in finding a job. I can say this is a lasting experience that should keep me on track to finding new challenges in my life. I always know you are there for my next search in any field of career.”
Another client expressed a similar sentiment of gratitude about the training he had received through the Job Club class. He wrote: “I want to take a moment to let you know how much I appreciated the opportunity to take your Job Club class. You are filled with so much knowledge and experience that you so generously shared. Your true patience and professionalism truly shone. Thank you so much for taking the time to spend with all of us.”
Stakeholder Engagement Good
Vantage itself considers strong stakeholder engagement to be the key to its success: “It is because of our many partnerships that Vantage is able to provide services across the State of Ohio. Corporate and Foundation partnerships exist through event sponsorships, grant funding, volunteering and matching gifts.”
The RSVP programme alone has partnered with over 70 organisations that offer volunteering opportunities within Summit and Medina Counties. In addition, the board of directors and staff also serve as members of various community boards and networking groups to develop collaborative partnerships to leverage Vantage’s human and financial resources. In its 2016 annual report, Vantage stated that it had provided its input to four groups, among which were the Akron Senior Citizens Commission on Ageing and the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce leadership programmes.
Vantage’s RSVP volunteer programme explicitly aims to match older individual stakeholders with volunteering opportunities where they can use their own talents and experience. Similarly, the Encore staffing network draws on older people to help jobseekers in their own age group to find employment. The very foundation of both programmes is therefore based on the input of its own stakeholders.
Political Commitment Good
Vantage enjoys a good level of political commitment, which is mainly expressed in the form of donations from and partnerships with public institutions. In 2016, fees and grants from governmental agencies made up around 90 percent of the revenues recorded by the agency.
Vantage is also part of the American Job Center Network, a brand created by the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA), which identifies online and in-person workforce development services as part of a single network. An instance of explicit support by a political leader was the visit of Ohio state senator, Vernon Sykes, to their Meals on Wheels of Northern Ohio dining site. Senator Sykes lauded the service provided by Vantage and promised to fight against cuts in the national budget for Meals on Wheels.
Clear Objectives Fair
The overall stated objective of Vantage is to “offer assistance to people so they can age with dignity and give peace of mind to family members”. It seeks to address this goal through the following programmes:
- Promoting training and employment (Workforce Solutions)
- Providing professional counselling (Vantage Behavioral Health Solutions)
- Care for seniors in their own homes (Vantage Home Wellness Solutions)
- Home delivered meals (Vantage/Meals on Wheels of Northern Ohio)
Matching adults 55 and older to volunteering opportunities (Vantage/RSVP).
While Vantage’s overall objective is stated, and each of the programmes therefore has its own goals, both the overall objective of Vantage and the goals of the programmes that sit underneath remain quite broad and are not linked to specific targets. For example, the SCSEP offering, which is part of Workforce Solutions, states that it promotes the economic self-sufficiency of adults age 55 and older. It does not formulate strategies more specific than promoting training and employment, or identify the targets it aims to meet. Nor is there evidence suggesting that these objectives haven been clarified over time.
No information was found regarding the evidence Vantage collected to support the feasibility of Workforce Solutions or Vantage/RSVP, in particular. However, both Workforce Solutions and Vantage/RSVP partner (through the SCSEP and RSVP respectively) with different federal institutions and programmes. This indicates that Vantage may have presented evidence to the SCSEP and RSVP to qualify as partners in their programmes. Alternatively, Vantage might have been given access through these federal programmes to information that would support the feasibility of Workforce Solutions and Vantage /RSVP.
Vantage is a registered not-for-profit and has operated since 1975. It depends largely on federal monies. In 2016, fees and grants from governmental agencies made up around 90 percent of the revenues recorded by the agency. Contributions (including in kind) and other public support made up around 3 percent of revenues. Changing political priorities or economic conditions can lead to cuts in relevant federal funding programmes, presenting a constant potential risk to Vantage’s operation. For example, the Job Club was discontinued in 2017 due to funding cuts. Similarly, Vantage’s Meals on Wheels was threatened by plans of the current US administration to cut or freeze funding for the country’s seniors’ programmes. Thus, while Vantage is a successful not-for-profit agency with more than 40 years’ experience in delivering care to Ohio’s senior citizens, its financial dependence on federal funding presents potentially a large threat to its operations.
Vantage is made up of a team of 10 executives, with a CEO, a director of human resources, a director of IT, a CFO, and a director for each of its programmes (e.g. director of RSVP). There is no additional information on the agency’s organisational and management structure, for example pertaining to its partnership with RSVP, or the number of its employees.
Vantage Aging has comprehensive metrics to track its public impact. However, it does not provide information on the methodology it uses to collect data, making it difficult to use those metrics to assess Vantage’s public impact over time. No evidence was found indicating that Vantage uses the metrics to redefine its strategy and enhance the impact of its services.
On the ‘About us’ page of its website Vantage Aging suggests that ‘Providing donors and stakeholders with information regarding the impact Vantage Aging has on our communities aligns with our goal to be completely transparent’. To deliver this information and track the impact of its Training and Employment programme Vantage uses the following stated metrics:
- Hours of work training provided to mature workers
- Service hours aiding not-for-profits
- Training hours via the Job Club and numbers of resulting employment
- Hours of expertise generated to not-for-profits by Encore participants.
To measure the success of its volunteering services it considers the following information:
- Number of not-for-profits benefiting from RSVP volunteers
- Number of volunteers in Summit and Medina Counties
- Hours of community service provided
- Percentage of volunteers older than 75.
It also captures the satisfaction of volunteers through the metrics of: the percentage of volunteers stating that they enjoyed meeting new friends; and the number of volunteers who agree that they make a difference in their community. However, Vantage only used these metrics in its annual reports of the years 2013/14, 2015 and 2016. This makes it difficult to track changes in its public impact over time.
In addition, there is very little to no information on how Vantage collected the data to measure its performance. A lack of explanation of the provided data also makes it difficult to know what exactly it pertains to and whether it sometimes overlaps. For example, for 2016, Vantage recorded that the training hours provided by the Job Club resulted in 31 participants finding employment. It also states that 141 people found employment as a result of the job training at host sites. This does not specify whether 141 people overall found employment, of which 31 did so through the Job Club, or whether the two groups are separate, producing 172 successful jobseekers altogether.
Similar issues characterise the measurement of RSVP/Vantage. Again, Vantage suggests that 98 percent of volunteers said that they enjoyed meeting new friends. 76 volunteers agreed that they had made a difference in their community.  Vantage does not show how it captured the volunteers’ sentiment, e.g. through surveys or interviews. Similarly, if 76 volunteers agreed that they had made a difference, is this number based on the 300 volunteers in Summit and Medina Counties or does its stem from another pool of volunteers? Hence, while the organisation does provide clear metrics, a lack of clarity concerning data collection and analysis as well as a lack of historical data somewhat diminish its measurement capabilities.
Based on the activities and events Vantage holds to commend its volunteers, its emphasis on training, and the support it receives from state-level politicians, it appears that there is alignment among those actors required to act in achieving Vantage’s objective. Presenting its impact in its 2016 annual report, Vantage cites Deborah, a volunteer, who praises the RSVP programme: “My involvement as a volunteer in RSVP has given meaning to my retirement. I have had the opportunity to learn something new, meet interesting people, and work in both the office and in the community. Volunteering has given me the opportunity to give back and explore the community and see life in a different way.” Statements like these indicate that there is alignment among stakeholders, but it is worth noting that these are only anecdotal and based on the agency’s own materials. Vantage does, however, also organise regular meetings, recognition events and award ceremonies to honour its volunteers, indicating that alignment is a priority for the organisation.
The interests of state-level politicians, such as Senator Sykes, are likely to closely align with those of Vantage as well, as the latter are providers of important services that help reduce poverty and social isolation among a vulnerable group within the state. Alignment with federal politics in contrast is less straightforward as the agency receives federal funding but acts on the state level – hence requiring resources without producing benefits that are of immediate relevance for national politics. Due to Vantage’s financial dependence on federal funding, alignment with the interests of national politicians and institutions would be essential to ensure its long-term success. No information was found that establishes whether Vantage is actively involved in efforts to garner continued support from the national level.
There is also no information pertaining to alignment amongst frontline workers specifically. However, the distinction between providers and recipients of services is not always clear especially when it comes to the volunteer programme. Perceived alignment amongst volunteers may therefore be reflective of alignment amongst Vantage employees more generally.