The Graying Workforce

By Chelle Cordero

June 3, 2013 5 min read

More people are working later in their lives than ever before. Once, it may have been a common dream to reach retirement age and enjoy the freedom of an unfettered life. Now, however, plans to travel, visit the grandchildren, play golf and live stress-free have been replaced by the need to pay everyday bills, afford medical care, and generally keep a roof overhead and food on the table. Delayed retirement and more financial security have become the new plan.

For retirement planners who put investments into 401(k) accounts or other defined contribution plans, the economy has been unkind. Mutual funds and stocks shrank for too many years, and the cost of living has continued to rise to the point where even guaranteed monthly pension plans just won't cover expenses. In the past decade, older workers who sought to supplement their meager pensions with part-time work have declined, and more older workers have looked for full-time employment.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Statistics, "by 2016, workers age 65 and over are expected to account for 6.1 percent of the total labor force, up sharply from their 2006 share of 3.6 percent." The upside to the advanced age of workers is continued payment into Social Security and less withdrawals. One of the downsides is less jobs are open to the younger and less experienced worker. Typically, employers are able to pay older workers less than the average salary for younger workers and save funds on benefits thanks to Medicare, although in recent years salaries have been coming up. The older work ethic is also attractive to employers.

According to a 2012 survey of hiring managers at more than 500 U.S. companies conducted by Adecco, a recruitment and workforce management company, "When it comes to skills that need strengthening, hiring managers feel mature workers need more technological know-how (72 percent), while that is the skill that millennials need to develop least (5 percent). Millennials, on the other hand, need to improve their writing skills (46 percent), while far fewer mature workers need to do so (9 percent)."

If older workers can maintain their employment past retirement age, they can accumulate more in their Social Security fund and shorten the amount of time their Social Security and other savings will have to support them. The unemployed worker of 50 or older does take considerably longer to find new employment than his or her younger counterparts, however, and it often comes with a substantial pay cut. The older unemployed worker may find it easier to gain new employment after brushing up on skills and learning more about new technology.

AARP publishes a biennial list of the best employers for workers over 50, citing companies with commendable business practices for recruiting and retaining mature workers. In 2011, this list contained a large number of universities and health-related industries. The next list will come out later in 2013. Human resource professionals often advise unemployed older workers to reinvent themselves and seek training with the tools needed in today's marketplace. Workers who have been unemployed for a while will frequently be surprised to find typewriters and adding machines replaced with computers, weekly meetings in the board room replaced with conference calls and Skype, business trips reduced to telecommuting sessions, and marketing to social media.

There are several companies that do recognize and seek the experience of older workers and their mindset, but many job seekers older than 50 have found both age discrimination and negativity toward lengthy unemployment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the total labor force will increase by 6.8 percent from 2010 to 2020, but the most dramatic increases are expected to be with the over-65 group, at 83.4 percent, despite the adverse attitudes.

Reaching the expected age of retirement can be an opportunity to switch careers and work in a field that seemed out of reach before. Older workers may be more willing to experiment with self-employment and consulting jobs without the responsibilities of raising a young family. After unemployment, temping or seasonal work is sometimes a great way to get back into the workforce.

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