Older and Still Out of Work
Sorry — make that, “in transition”

Posted Wednesday, April 17th, 2013  | Comments (4) rule

Maria Heidkamp
Senior Project Manager
John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Email: heidkamp@rutgers.edu

The Great Recession ended almost four years ago (June 2009), but as of February 2013, nearly 2 million people over the age of 55 were still unemployed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly half (46.6 percent) of these older job seekers have earned the distinction of being long-term unemployed—that is, out of work for 27 or more weeks. We know from research done by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, at Rutgers, how devastating unemployment—especially long-term unemployment—is for people’s economic well-being, not to mention their physical and mental health. The Heldrich Center’s director, Carl Van Horn, interviewed people in this situation and reports their stories in his book Working Scared (Or Not At All): The Lost Decade, Great Recession, and Restoring the Shattered American Dream. They describe a “world of hurt” and the frustrating, demeaning, isolating, and frightening state that is unemployment. One man said: “The lack of income and loss of health benefits hurt greatly, but losing the ability to provide for my wife and myself is killing me emotionally.” Do we have a public workforce system in place that can respond?

An increasingly complex job-search process

The reemployment difficulties of many older job seekers are exacerbated by the fact that both the labor market and the job search process are radically different from what they were even a few years ago. According to a recent report by Kathy Krepcio and Michele M. Martin, also of the Heldrich Center, the current labor market is characterized by “constant churn and volatility,” and permanent full-time employment is often replaced by part-time temporary or contingent work. In this unstable environment, Krepcio and Martin reason, even employed workers need to be always thinking about their next job and how to navigate their own career and professional development. Job searches have become far more complex, too, these investigators say; job seekers at all skill levels now need to have sophisticated technology and “personal branding” skills. They have to know how to “optimize their resumes with keywords” and engage in in-depth company research to craft cover letters that will attract an employer’s attention.

Recently, I observed several sessions for job seekers at a local public library in central New Jersey. A volunteer-run peer support group for job-seeking professionals works with the library to host these sessions several times a month. A few weeks ago, 65 people showed up on a snowy Friday morning for a session on how to nail an interview. Most appeared to be older than 40.

Our public workforce system offers relatively little to older job seekers like these. Frankly, it’s not clear that today’s workforce system has made any more sense of the changing labor market and job-search process than the self-help peer group at the library, which at least allows the participants—who generally describe themselves as being “in transition” rather than unemployed—the chance for some camaraderie as they struggle to navigate their futures.

De-skilling the older workforce

I routinely meet older job seekers who have made transitions to new jobs, such as the supermarket checkout clerk who used to do marketing for a big pharmaceutical company; the airport van driver who used to work as a newspaper editor; the other airport van driver who used to work for Hewlett Packard; the cable repairman who used to be in finance. The cable repairman is happy, because he has health insurance again for his family after two years without; he gets free Internet service; and he believes this job will be a stepping stone to the career in information technology that he hopes to have eventually. A new research paper by the Canadian economists Paul Beaudry, David A. Green, and Benjamin M. Sand offers evidence that the movement I have observed of high-skilled workers moving down the occupational ladder and taking jobs formerly held by lower-skilled workers is more than anecdotal. Their findings show it is a trend, and they’ve given it a name: “de-skilling.”

Many other older job seekers can’t seem to get a break at all. Recently published research that I conducted with William Mabe and Barbara DeGraaf, also of the Heldrich Center, suggests that their problem is not that they insist on pay commensurate with their experience, but rather that employers believe they will do so, and suspect, as well, that their skills will prove to be out of date.

The recession’s aftermath has made clear that in today’s volatile labor market and evolving economy, we need to rethink a public workforce system that can make lifelong learning and far better career navigation possible for those in transition—a state of being that may become the new normal as we all become constant job seekers.

Comments (4) for "Older and Still Out of WorkSorry — make that, “in transition”"

When Older Workers are Overlooked,
It’s Employers Who Miss Out

Posted Monday, April 8th, 2013  | Comments (9) rule

Jacquelyn B. James, PhD
Director of Research
Sloan Center on Aging & Work, Boston College

Phone: 617.552.2860
Email: jamesjc@bc.edu

By now, most of us are familiar with the plight of unemployed older workers in today’s unforgiving economy. But allow me to introduce you to a less well-covered phenomenon: the plight of businesses that don’t hire older workers.

The recent Boston Globe article “Long-term joblessness hits older workers hard” did an excellent job portraying the struggles older Americans face when trying to find work past the age of 50. As one out-of-work 60-year-old profiled in the article states, interviewers 20 years younger than he was did not seem eager to “hire their dad.” What the article did not touch on is that those interviewers are putting their employers at a comparative disadvantage by overlooking the skills, experience and added value older workers offer.

First, let us dispel the myth that senior citizens are just too old for the workplace. We all know that workers, for the most part, don’t retire at 60 anymore. But that’s not just because they can’t afford to—it’s because 60 isn’t old anymore. Today’s 50-, 60-and 70-somethings not only need to work, they want to work, and they are fully capable of doing so. In fact, the average health of today’s older worker is no worse than that of their younger counterparts, and by some measures is better. A 2012 AARP survey asked Americans aged 35 to 80 to rate their overall health and happiness, and found responses generally increasing with age. Other surveys have found adults over 65 reporting lower levels of depression, loneliness, and other mental health problems than their younger peers. The perception that people over the age of 60 are somehow mentally or physically unsuited for the workplace is as outdated as a fax machine.

But it’s not just that older workers aren’t risks or burdens to organizations. They are, in fact, a benefit. Numerous studies have shown that older workers are the most satisfied with their jobs and the most engaged of all age groups, which any manager can tell you leads to higher levels of presenteeism and productivity. They very often bring relevant experiences, strong attention-to-detail, and resilience built from years on the job that their younger peers may be less likely to offer.

Some of you might be thinking ‘great, a 60-year-old may have something to offer my company, but they’ll only be there for five or ten years, so why put in the investment?’ But that line of thinking ignores the dynamics of the modern workplace, After all, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure for 25- to 34-year-olds at their current employer is just 3.2 years. Hiring a 60-year-old could very well offer the company a longer tenure than hiring a 30-year-old.

Yet, the perception remains that older workers are not up to the job or not worth hiring. Nearly a quarter of all cases brought to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2011 claimed discrimination on the basis of age. Older workers are routinely passed up for promotions, forced out of jobs, or simply not given the chance in the first place. These kinds of ageist attitudes don’t just hurt older workers; they hurt the entire organization. A recent survey conducted by the Boston College Sloan Center on Aging & Work found that a perception of bias in the workplace against older workers generates lower senses of engagement among both older workers and younger workers. That’s right, even the perception that older workers are being discriminated against has a negative outcome for the company, across the board.

It’s high time for employers and employees alike to rethink our perceptions of older Americans in the workplace. Older workers are more than up to the job, they often bring unique skills and outlooks no one else can offer, and discriminating against these workers not only hurts them, it hurts the entire company.

Hiring managers who look at the resume of a 50+ worker and see a risk or a burden should look again. Older workers don’t need your pity. Firms that pass on the opportunity to hire them do.


Jacquelyn James, PhD is research director at the Sloan Center on Aging & Work and co-author of The Crown of Life: Dynamics of the Early Postretirement Period (with Paul Wink)

Comments (9) for "When Older Workers are Overlooked, It’s Employers Who Miss Out"

Transforming the Challenges of an Aging Workforce into Business Success

Posted Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013  | Comments (3) rule

Shauneequa Owusu
Manager, Age-Friendly Commerce
The New York Academy of Medicine

Email: sowusu@nyam.org

In a U.S. economy driven mostly by consumer spending, older consumers outspend younger shoppers by at least $1 trillion annually. Workers who are the foundation of the supply side of the economy are also grower older. In seven years one in four workers in the United States will be at least 55 years old and a significant portion will continue to work past traditional retirement age. Furthermore, a younger worker can expect to spend the next 60 years in the workforce—much longer than earlier generations.

Workforce aging and the increasingly multigenerational workplace is an issue employers find challenging to adapt to. However, some are discovering that the new norm of four generations working together is an opportunity. By optimizing the strengths, talents, and skills of everyone, including older workers, businesses can potentially lower costs, boost productivity, spark new business, and relate to their growing older-adult consumer base—all of which can increase their bottom lines. Wells Fargo, Marriott International, and BMW, for example, have addressed their aging workforces by implementing strategies such as: making design changes to equipment, creating an employee resource group for older workers, and developing training tools to help support managers in leading multigenerational teams. As a result, they are seeing increases in productivity or profits—or both.

Employers who proactively find ways to support older workers create beneficial environments for workers of all ages. Having embraced the multigenerational workplace as an opportunity, they use innovation, flexibility, and creative talent management to stay ahead of the curve. These leaders deserve recognition by their peers: they are age-smart.


A good way to encourage businesses to create and execute age-smart practices is to reward those that are already doing so. “Age Smart Employer Awards”—an initiative of Age-friendly NYC and the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation—seeks to do just that. These awards honor New York City employers who have innovative practices that optimize the multigenerational workplace as part of a 21st century business strategy. A compendium of such strategies and practices, developed with the help of leading researchers in economics, organizational management, aging, and business, will guide the judging. Applications will be accepted beginning in April 2013. For more information and to download the compendium, visit www.AgeSmartEmployer.org.

You might ask: Why New York? Aside from its position as a global center of commerce, New York City was the first city to be recognized by the WHO Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities, a program of the World Health Organization that links a growing number of cities around the world (135 so far) that commit to creating physical and social urban environments that promote healthy and active ageing and a good quality of life for their older residents. Age-friendly NYC’s work has attracted widespread attention and has become an international model. Currently, 700,000 workers in New York City are 55 and older and they represent a disproportionately large percentage of New York City’s workforce. Through consultations with older New Yorkers, NYAM found that they both want and need to remain in the workforce past the traditional age of retirement. Conversations with employers highlighted concerns about anticipating and accommodating the shifting needs of older employees, facilitating better relationships among multiple generations of workers, and creating two-way streets for younger and older workers to share their knowledge.

New York City has a unique opportunity to lead employers nationwide, by inspiring the creation of more age-smart workplaces, enhancing the economic well-being of older adults, increasing the contributions of older workers to a healthy economy, and capitalizing on the emerging silver economy. The closer companies come to achieving these imperatives, the more competitive they will be globally.

Comments (3) for "Transforming the Challenges of an Aging Workforce into Business Success"

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