Time and again, I've discussed the reality that Boomers want to or need to continue to work into their Sixties and Seventies. But a particularly interesting problem is the one faced by Boomers who have spent their lives working at jobs considered "middle-skill" occupations, including office administration, professional sales, production and repair, operators and fabricators, and skilled administration, protective and personal services. These occupations, which account for over 40 percent of all jobs, have been in long-term decline, making it especially challenging for middle-skill Boomers to maintain employment.
A recent report from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College looked at employment outcomes specifically for older workers first observed in middle-skill jobs. If they leave a middle-skill job, are they able to find jobs in another skill level, or are they forced out of employment prematurely? What are the circumstances surrounding these transitions, and how are the workers’ earnings affected?
The heart of the problem for these workers is the following, according to the report:
"Older workers may be particularly vulnerable to polarization; the labor market for prime-aged workers was slanted more toward middle-skill occupations when these workers were younger, and it might be difficult to increase their skills up to the high level, while low-skill jobs might involve physical labor that older, middle-skilled workers are unable or unwilling to perform." In addition, "many older workers who are forced out of middle-skill jobs and unable to find high-skill jobs may retire early, join the growing ranks of the long-term unemployed or disabled, or otherwise drop out of the labor force."
So it seems where older Americans get squeezed is if they are middle-skilled workers.
There is some good news in the report, however; older workers have generally not been hurt more than any other group, largely because older workers often prefer part-time employment, for which even low-skilled positions are acceptable. The study concludes:
"Middle-skilled workers may require unemployment benefits and other income-support programs and job training to ensure that the decline in their employment opportunities does not have long-lasting consequences, but that safety net is no more necessary for older workers."
You can download a copy of the full report below.