Former Verso Paper Worker from Maine Testifies at Senate Aging Committee Hearing
At Senator Collins’ invitation, Ralph Jellison told his story about losing his job and retraining for a new career
Click HERE for a high-resolution photo of Senator Collins and Mr. Jellison
Click HERE for a copy of Senator Collins’ opening statement
Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ opening remarks
Click HERE to watch Senator Collins questioning Mr. Jellison
Washington, D.C. - Ralph Jellison, from Orland, Maine, had worked at the Verso Paper Mill (formerly Champion Paper) in Bucksport for 27 years when the company announced in 2014 that the mill would close.
“My life was turned upside down when I was 52 years old,” Mr. Jellison told the Senate Aging Committee today. “The job market had been flooded with hundreds of unemployed mill workers… I live in a small town where there are not a whole lot of options for me to just go out and find another job that paid as well as the mill.”
Senator Susan Collins, Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, invited Mr. Jellison to Washington to share his experience during a hearing focused on the challenges and opportunities facing America’s aging workforce. Following the mill closure, Mr. Jellison enrolled in a retraining program at Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor, eventually securing a job at Hinckley Yachts and later at the GAC Chemical Corporation in Searsport.
“This opportunity to go back to school has brought me to this point in my life. We’re back on our feet and I’m providing for my family again. I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel,” said Mr. Jellison.
With Americans living and working longer, the workplace has transformed in an unprecedented way. For the past year, Senator Collins’ committee has been examining the nation’s aging workforce, and today released its report, “America’s Aging Workforce: Opportunities and Challenges.” The report finds that the number of Americans over age 55 in the labor force is projected to increase from 35.7 million in 2016 to 42.1 million in 2026, and, by 2026, aging workers will make up nearly one quarter of the labor force. At work, older Americans are productive, and the business case for hiring, retaining, and supporting older workers is strong. Yet, challenges also exist – including age discrimination, inadequate training opportunities, working while managing health conditions and disabilities, balancing caregiving responsibilities with work, and preparing financially for retirement.
“The aging of our population has transformed our nation’s economy,” said Senator Collins. “As older Americans enter and remain in the workforce in record numbers, they provide skills and experiences that are often unmatched; work ethic and principles that can be exemplary and vision that is uniquely informed by the past to frame the future. Ralph is an inspiring example of an older worker who faced extraordinary challenges, yet was able to take advantage of opportunities that helped him rebuild his life and continue to provide for his family and prepare for his retirement years ahead.”
Under Senator Collins’ leadership, the Senate Aging Committee is committed to understanding, embracing, and addressing the opportunities and challenges facing older workers. The Committee seeks to ensure that older workers are able to thrive at work and adequately prepare for retirement.
Click HERE to read the committee’s report.