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Older Job Hunters: Powerfully Good News

Hiring numbers have been strong, but not everything's peachy


(Editor’s Note: This story is part of a partnership between Next Avenue and Chasing the Dream, a public media initiative on poverty and opportunity.)

Getting a job in your 50s or 60s certainly isn’t easy, but new and somewhat surprising employment data suggests that prospects and pay are improving, especially for older job switchers. One big reason? The tightest labor market in nearly two decades, causing some employers to more readily hire older job hunters. Some 6.7 million U.S. jobs went unfilled this spring.

Ahu Yildirmaz

“The tightening labor market is hitting employers and it’s one of the biggest challenges employers will face over the next couple of years,” said Ahu Yildirmaz, head of the ADP Research Institute, a division of the giant payroll processing company, ADP. “Ultimately, age will be less of a factor.”

A recent story on the Human Resource Executive site was called: “Why Older Workers Are Now In Demand.” Who would’ve expected to see that?

Jen Schramm, senior strategic policy adviser at the AARP Public Policy Institute is pleased about the good news for older workers, but tempers her view. “A tight labor market encourages employers and hiring managers to look at candidates they might normally overlook and this can include older applicants,” she said. But, she added, “Even in a strong job market, challenges remain for older job seekers. Government data continues to show that job seekers ages 55 and older face long periods of unemployment and our own research has found that age discrimination continues to be widespread.”

She’s right. Below are the cheery numbers and hiring news followed by parts of the less-wonderful world facing older job hunters.

The Positive Data on Older Job Hunters

Some recent uplifting statistics about older workers and older job hunters:

  • The unemployment rate for people 55 and older is now just 3.1 percent, less than the overall jobless rate of 3.9 percent.
  • Workers 55 and older are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. labor force.
  • The average duration of unemployment for older job seekers has dropped sharply since 2012 (though still long); it’s down from roughly 50 weeks to 34 weeks for job hunters age 55 to 64 and down from about 62 weeks to 30 weeks for those 65+. In other words, it now typically takes about seven to eight months to find a job if you’re over 55.
  • About 29 percent of job seekers 55+ are considered long-term unemployed (looking for work for 27 weeks or more); while that’s still high, it’s down dramatically from roughly 45 percent in 2014.
  • Job growth for people 55 and older is up 4.5 percent, according to ADP. That’s more than twice as high as the 1.7 percent job growth for workers overall.
  • Wage growth for job switchers 55 and older is up 6.3 percent, according to ADP. That’s far higher than the 3 percent wage growth for workers of all ages. It’s especially strong for older job switchers who are skilled workers in construction and professional services (accountants, lawyers, architects and the like).

The tight labor market isn’t the only reason some employers are hiring older workers. They’re also finding, as research from the National Council on Aging has shown, that these employees have lower absentee and turnover rates than younger workers.

vitality by ageCredit: Workforce Vitality Report | ADP

Employers Who Hire Older Applicants

Some employers have been especially willing to hire older job applicants.

As my Next Avenue colleague Chris Farrell wrote last fall, packaging and delivery services like UPS and retailers such as Williams Sonoma and JC Penney have been increasingly tapping into their retiree base to meet the Christmas holiday rush. The accounting firm PKF O’Connor Davies, a winner of the 2018 Age Smart Employer Award, makes a point of hiring accountants who’ve been forced to retire from their previous firms at around age 60. More than 250 of its 700 workers are over 50, as Reuters writer Mark Miller has noted.

At CVS Health, according to HR Executive, roughly 19 percent of employees are over 50. That’s partly due to its Talent Is Ageless program to recruit and keep workers 50+ for full- and part-time jobs. “Hiring mature workers makes good business sense for our company. These colleagues are highly valued, both because of their skills and experience, but also because they are members of our fastest-growing customer base,” David Casey, vice president of workforce strategies and chief diversity officer at CVS Health told HR Executive.

The Downbeat Numbers About Older Workers

And now, a few things that are less peachy for older job applicants and older workers, which likely won’t be too surprising if you’re in one of those camps:

  • Wage growth for all workers 55 and older is just 2.4 percent, according to ADP, less than the national 3.0 percent wage growth. In other words, if you’re 55+ and have a job, raises are still pretty puny.
  • Job seekers 55 and older still tend to be out of work substantially longer than younger job seekers — about 34 weeks on average for those 55 to 64 and 30 weeks for those 65+ compared to 15 weeks for job hunters age 20 to 24.
  • Hourly pay for full-time workers starts to decline after 60, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. “Many employers are looking at what they’re paying a 60-year-old and they’re saying, ‘Wait, I can hire two hungry 30-year-olds’ for the same cost,” Donald Klepper-Smith, chief economist at DataCore Partners, an economic research firm, recently told The Boston Globe.
  • And the 3.1 percent unemployment rate for people over 55 excludes the 1.1 million “long-term discouraged workers” who want a job but haven’t looked for one in the last year, says economist Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. Jennifer Schramm of AARP Public Policy Institute just wrote that discouraged workers ages 65 and older are more likely to say the reason they’re not looking for work “is that employers think they are too old.”

What Kinds of Jobs Are They?

Also, the jobs that older job seekers get aren’t necessarily the best-paying ones. Many workers over 55 “get funneled into lower-paying ‘older person jobs’ — from retail sales clerks to security or school crossing guards to taxi drivers” — according to a 2016 study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

As San Diego Union-Tribune writers Lori Weisberg and Mike Freeman recently wrote in their “backstory” on their piece on excellent report about older workers: “Many workers in their 50s and older told us they are having to take lower-paid jobs or gig work like driving for Uber or Lyft to make ends meet.” And, they noted, “several told us they took sizable cuts in pay, in part, because they found employment outside their field in a lower-paying position.”

Age Discrimination: Still a Big Problem

Age discrimination by employers remains a scourge.

When AARP recently surveyed 3,900 people age 45 and older, 61 percent said they’ve personally seen or experienced age discrimination. Among those who’ve applied for a job in the past two years, 44 percent were asked for potentially job-losing age-related information such as birth dates and graduation years. 2018 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging Peter Gosselin calls age discrimination “the acceptable bias.” Indeed, a 2018 report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) starkly said that age discrimination “remains too common and too accepted.”

In certain fields, such as technology, older workers are often shunned or booted out. For evidence, read Gosselin’s superb ProPublica IBM exposé, “Cutting ‘Old Heads’ at IBM.” A class-action suit against IBM was just filed in federal court saying the company discriminated against former employees based on their age when they were fired.

Advice for Older Job Hunters

Finding work after 50 can be critically important to help make your retirement financially secure, though. As a new report from the National Institute on Retirement Security found, the median retirement account balance for people age 55 to 64 with such accounts is just $88,000. AARP research found that nearly half of people 65+ who were working or her interviewlooking for work did so for financial reasons.

If you’re over 50 and looking for a job, Yildirmaz advises being realistic about what you can expect to earn. “Older employees need to change their expectations,” she said. In other words: don’t blithely assume you will earn as much or more in your next job than in your last one.

During her interview with Next Avenue’s Chris Farrell, EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic offered two other smart tips for older job applicants: 1) Invest in your skills so that you won’t be denied a job because you aren’t up to speed. 2) Do what you can to show employers you’re still engaged and talented.

One final, if deflating thought: the heartening numbers for older job applicants may not last much longer. Today’s tight job market won’t last. “We’re at the end of a very long recovery,” David Neumark, a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, recently told The San Diego Union Tribune, in its excellent story on older workers.

This story is part of our partnership with Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America, a public media initiative on poverty and opportunity. Major funding is provided by The JPB Foundation.

Richard Eisenberg
By Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch.@richeis315

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