Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP)

Why Does SCSEP Matter?

Today, many older Americans are looking for employment to help make ends meet. The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) is the only federal program targeted to help older workers. Each year, SCSEP enables thousands of low-income seniors to earn and learn while working in local programs serving their community. The vision for SCSEP was foreseen in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the ideals of President Johnson’s Great Society 50 years ago, and echoed in advocacy of “encore careers” for older Americans today.

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A growing number of older Americans are poor or at risk of poverty, and the job market is especially challenging to them. The jobless rate of workers who are 55 years or older and earn less than $20,000 per year is three times higher than for older workers in general, and older workers take twice as long as younger workers to find employment. The human toll of this long-term joblessness on the emotional as well as financial well-being of older men and women has been thoroughly documented.

SCSEP is designed to respond to the needs of these older jobseekers with barriers to employment. Authorized by the Older Americans Act, SCSEP provides unemployed, low-income adults 55 years and older with part-time jobs working in local nonprofit, government, and faith-based agencies providing services in the community. Working in their community service assignments, SCSEP participants earn income while they build their self-confidence and learn skills valued by local employers.

SCSEP’s underlying principles are as sound today as they were a half-century ago. Together, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and then-Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz—speaking weeks apart in 1968—provide the foundation for SCSEP.

“You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, February 4, 1968.

“Our senior citizens don’t want handouts. They want work. They want to continue to make a contribution …. They want to continue to be a vital and living part of American society.”
– Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz at the signing of contracts for Older American Community Service Program, February 15, 1968.

These ideas about service and older Americans that helped launch SCSEP continue to echo in discussions today about productive aging, “encore careers,” and civic engagement. calls for “advancing second acts for the greater good” and supports initiatives that “tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to improve communities and the world.” During the last 50 years, SCSEP has tapped the skills and experience of more than a million low-income older Americans for the greater good.

SCSEP’s Triple Win

Like the Encore Movement, SCSEP delivers a “triple win” for our nation by promoting healthy aging and offering employment opportunities for low-income older Americans while providing staff to local programs and agencies serving communities. Two-thirds of the low-income older Americans participating in SCSEP are women, almost half are from a racial or ethnic minority, and almost a third are 65 years or older.

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In 2015, the Encore Network Leaders (convened by prepared a report, “The Longevity Dividend and the Encore Vision,” for the 2015 White House Conference on Aging.

In addition to including SCSEP in a list of “innovative programs working on the front line to harness encore talent,” the report stated that “The encore movement can deliver a triple win for America—at the intersection of healthy aging, economic security and social impact.”

Similarly, SCSEP delivers a “triple win” for our nation:

  • Healthy Aging.
    • 91% of SCSEP participants reported that their physical health is the same or better than before they entered SCSEP, and
    • 73% reported that their outlook on life is a little more or much more positive. (Source: national survey of 10,668 participants funded by USDOL conducted by Charter Oak Group, 2014.)
  • Employment Opportunities and Economic Security.
    • 45% of SCSEP participants exit into unsubsidized employment. (Source: USDOL official reports, 2014)
  • Social Impact of Community Service Employment.
    • Last year, SCSEP participants provided more than 35.7 million staff hours to 21,000 local public and nonprofit agencies, such as libraries, schools, and senior centers. The value of these community service hours—using Independent Sector estimates—exceeded $806 million, nearly twice the total SCSEP appropriations of $432 million. (Source: USDOL official reports, 2014)
    • 76% of host agencies indicated that participation in SCSEP either significantly or somewhat increased their ability to provide services to the community (Source: national survey of 7,446 agencies funded by USDOL conducted by Charter Oak Group, 2014.)
    • In a Digital Inclusion Initiative between 2009 and 2012, more than 550 SCSEP participants served as peer coaches in 354 sites and taught more than 25,000 older learners how to create and use an email account and search the Internet.

All SCSEP participants are at least 55 years old and have a family income less than 125% of poverty ($14,713 for family of one). Of the 67,356 SCSEP participants during the year ending June 30, 2015:

  • 88% had family incomes less than 100% of federal poverty guidelines;
  • 48% were from a racial or ethnic minority, 65% were women, and 18% had at least one disability;
  • 31% were 65 or older, including 5% who were 70 years or older;
  • 19% had less than a high school diploma; and
  • 13% were veterans or qualified spouses.

SCSEP: A Unique Workforce Development Program

SCSEP can be found in nearly every county in the nation and is operated by a network of national, state, and local organizations. Authorized by the Title V of the Older Americans Act, SCSEP funding is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. It is one of only three federal workforce development programs that do not overlap with any other similar federal program, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

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To operate SCSEP, the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration awards competitive grants to 15 national organizations and non-competitive grants to 56 state/territorial government agencies (including 18 state/territorial workforce agencies). A complete list of grantees is available here. Click here to find the SCSEP program in a specific location.

SCSEP is one of only three workforce development programs that do not overlap or duplicate another federal program, according to studies by the Government Accountability Office. For more information, see Multiple Employment and Training Programs: Providing Information on Colocating Services and Consolidating Administrative Structures Could Promote Efficiencies, GAO-11-92 (Feb. 9, 2011).


Senior Service America, Inc. (SSAI) operates SCSEP exclusively through a subgrantee network of partner organizations in 16 states. Our partners are drawn from aging services, workforce development, and other networks who work closely with local employers, social services, and community organizations.

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This year, our 65 subgrantees are operating SCSEP in 437 counties spread over 13 states.

While many of our partners are based in high-density urban areas, over 60 percent serve multi-county rural regions.

SSAI also helps our partners better serve older adults in their community. Learn more about SSAI’s capacity-building work here.

Bilingual older adults trained as community interpreters

Hear from several of the people who completed classroom and on-the-job training to obtain a certificate in community interpretation.

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With funding from the AARP Foundation, Senior Service America trained bilingual older adults in Alabama, Maryland, and North Carolina for employment as community interpreters in Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and Amharic.

Skilled carpenter finds his “encore” working at his local One-Stop Career Center

Dennis Waters of Boone, North Carolina, tapped his past experiences and gained new skills working as front line staff of the North Carolina Employment Security Office.

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SCSEP participant: Dennis Waters

Host Agency: Employment Security Commission; Boone, N.C.

SSAI subgrantee: Winston-Salem Urban League

In Boone, N.C., a Blue Ridge Mountains university and resort town where declines in construction and tourism have left many workers scrambling, Dennis Waters is a frontline receptionist for the state Employment Security Commission office. With his desk located seven feet from the entrance of this employment center, Waters simultaneously answers multiple phone lines, enters computer data and guides anxious job-seekers.

Waters, 59, a skilled carpenter’s assistant who followed a construction boom to Boone a decade ago, says the homeless and unemployed now flock there figuring its vacation industry generates jobs. “Then they get here and find the rents are high because of the university and that the tourist business is down, so there is very little work except for those with degrees in the medical field.”

At the employment center, Waters is a calm, helpful presence in a place of deep distress: “The state is ready to put security walls around my desk—they’re afraid things may get out of hand when a lot of people run out of money.” Waters says that matter-of-factly. He’s been there.

Two years ago, Waters moved into a Boone homeless shelter when his last construction job ended, work was not to be found, and he lost his apartment. “I had never been in a homeless shelter before,” Waters says. “I was used to supporting myself and making a living.”

At the shelter, Waters was told to call Myrtle Osborne, the Winston-Salem Urban League’s coordinator for the federal Senior Community Service Employment Program, which prepares older, low-income adults to re-enter the workforce by placing them in minimum wage, part-time positions serving their communities. Waters had been at the shelter six months when Osborne interviewed him at the employment office and he was told on the spot to start the next week. While performing his SCSEP assignment, Waters continued living at the shelter until government housing assistance, plus his SCSEP pay, allowed him to rent an apartment.

“My SCSEP assignment has been a lifeline for me,” Waters says. “Without it, I don’t know what will happen. I might have to go back to the shelter.” Boone is now in the midst of expanding its overburdened homeless shelter, he adds, “and there are people living in cars and tents.”

As a SCSEP participant, Waters has acquired new job skills including typing, computer operation and guiding members of the public. While working at the employment center, Waters continues to job-hunt in Boone. His believes that his new skill set and experience—”a complete change from what I’d been doing”—make him a good fit for hotel reception work, but he is competing with “so many people who have been doing that kind of work for a long time.”

Waters understand the importance of personal contacts in a rough job market. While performing his assignment at the employment center, he meets many business owners—”if their business picks up, you have a better chance of finding work”—and keeps an eagle eye on job postings.

“I have skills I never had before,” he says, “and I’m making as many contacts as I can. But unless a miracle job appears, it’s probably back to the homeless shelter if SCSEP ends for me July 1.”

Crossing the Digital Divide at 55+: Voices of our Digital Inclusion Initiative

SCSEP participants are agents of change, both in their own lives and those of others. While some may think that the digital divide has been eliminated, SSAI works to ensure that older Americans, especially those with less education and income, are not left behind.

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In January 2016, U.S. Congressman Tom Reed and NY State Assemblyman Andy Goodell honored 11 older New Yorkers for completing an introductory computer class sponsored by the Chautauqua County Office for the Aging, a Senior Service America SCSEP subgrantee. Since 2009, SCSEP participants have coached more than 1,000 seniors using the Generations on Line program at libraries and other public computing locations. Learn more from this news story:

Until 2011, the Chautauqua County Office for the Aging was one of more than 50 SSAI subgrantees that mobilized hundreds of SCSEP participants to coach their offline peers how to get online. Before funding ended, our Digital Inclusion Initiative reached more than 26,000 older adults. Learn more about this Initiative: