On the Clock

Numbers Don't Lie

Business-2253639_1920There are two COVID-inspired phrases that have been kicking around of late: "The Great Resignation" and "The Great Retirement." The two phrases are inter-related but very different.

"The Great Resignation" generally refers to workers who have exited the workforce, almost entirely by choice, during the pandemic. The reasons for resigning from a job are varied: Some workers are simply fed up with low wages, others (mostly women) cite issues with child care, others don't like menial work, and still others may not want to return to a physical workplace after working remotely from home. Whatever the reasons, the outcome is the same: American workers have left traditional work in droves, accounting for millions of open jobs and "Help Wanted" signs everywhere.

"The Great Retirement" overlaps with "The Great Resignation" in the sense that a considerable percentage of older workers may have decided that the pandemic was the right time to resign from their jobs. Rather than continue to work in traditional jobs, these older workers chose a number of different paths, such as part-time work, freelance work or "gig" assignments, volunteer work or some combination thereof. Some older workers may have decided to stop working altogether and retire.

About a year ago (August 2020), the Schwartz Center for Economic Analysis at the New School looked at some numbers and they turned out to be pretty astonishing:

  • From March through June 2020, 2.9 million workers ages 55-70 left the labor force, 50 percent more than the 1.9 million older workers who left the labor force three months after the Great Recession began in 2007.
  • Of the 2.9 million older workers who left the labor force, the majority (2.4 million) lost their jobs between March and June. The other 500,000 were already unemployed in March.
  • Between March and June 2020, 38 percent of unemployed older Americans gave up looking for work and left the labor force.

According to the Schwartz Center, "Several indicators show 2.9 million older workers who exited the labor force are unlikely to return. ...Under normal economic conditions, older workers who leave the labor force due to layoff are unlikely to re-enter the job market and face having to retire earlier than planned. ...Additionally, older workers who lose their job take nearly twice as long to find a new job compared to young workers. Even if jobless older workers find a new job, they can expect their new wages to be 23-41% less than their previous earnings."

One year later, in August 2021, an article by Tammy La Gorce in The New York Times confirmed that things haven't changed much for these older workers. La Gorce writes that "retiring during the pandemic has inflicted two traumas...most felt they were forced out of work before they wanted to go" and the majority "were financially unprepared." Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics and policy analysis at the New School for Social Research, told La Gorce, “A lot of people were pushed out of their jobs... It used to be that employers would let the ones they just hired go first in a recession, but this time older people who have been in their jobs the longest have been hit hardest.”

So "The Great Retirement" may turn out to be not-so-great for millions of older workers who didn't intend to retire at all. Instead, many have been involuntarily retired from a job they intended -- and needed -- to keep. The obvious reason may have been the pandemic, but the less obvious reason was that some employers used the pandemic as cover to pare down their employee ranks. The most vulnerable workers, the older ones, were the first to be let go. Numbers don't lie.

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An Aging Workforce Continues to Face Ageism

Krakenimages-8RXmc8pLX_I-unsplashExcuse me for being repetitive, but I'm writing about age discrimination in the workplace...again.

I recently wrote about the economic impact of age discrimination. Now I want to talk about the human cost. A research study jointly conducted by New York University and Stanford University revealed that younger workers are persistently prejudiced against older workers -- and the younger the workers are, the more ageist views they hold. In fact, the study found that workers who openly oppose racism and sexism in the workplace are still prejudiced against older workers.

Richard Eisenberg of NextAvenue asked Michael North, one of the researchers, some penetrating questions about the study. North expressed this disturbing takeaway from interviewing younger workers: "There's this sort of subtle tension where older adults are expected to step aside and get out of the way and stop creating this perceived logjam in the distribution of resources or jobs or positions of influence, so the younger generation can get their turn."

North said he believed that "ageism is socially condoned to a point where it's not uncommon for folks to overlook it as a prejudice." In a 2014 article he co-authored for Harvard Business Review, North wrote about four specific ways companies could adapt to an aging workforce:

  1. Flexible, half-retirement.
  2. Prioritizing older-worker skills in hiring and promotions.
  3. Creating new positions or adapting old ones.
  4. Changing workplace ergonomics.

According to the article, "Companies that make these changes have seen tangible improvements in retention and productivity, organizational culture, and the bottom line."

Despite these accommodations for a workforce that is aging, age discrimination in the workplace is widespread. A recent research study by Generation, a global employment nonprofit, cites some sobering statistics. As reported by Kerry Hannon for NextAvenue, "Employers view just 18% of age 45+ job seekers as having the right experience for their entry and intermediate level roles, according to the report. Only 15% are viewed as being a good 'cultural fit' with their team." Sadly, this contradicts reality, since when 45+ workers are actually hired, "87% of those employees perform as well, or better, than colleagues a decade younger."

This kind of workplace ageism takes a human toll: "Of those surveyed who were unemployed, 63% of 45+ job seekers have been out of work for more than a year vs. only 36% of job seekers 18 to 34."

Hannon spoke with Generation CEO Mona Mourshed, who was one of the report's researchers. Mourshed indicated that ageism was not just limited to any one country or any particular industry. "One of the most striking findings of this result is it's uniformly consistent across dramatically different countries," said Mourshed. "We surveyed seven countries —  large, small, emerging markets, culturally diverse — but this phenomenon is a hundred percent universal. Same pattern, same magnitude, from industrial to service professions, from skilled trades to tech jobs."

Mourshed's observations are worth noting. "It's so important that age is considered part of diversity, equity, and inclusion," said Mourshed. "We must have an intergenerational workforce and we should have processes for recruiting and for retention that enable that."

The research findings can be discouraging, but if you are a Boomer who wants to continue to work, you'll need to find ways to prove your value to prospective employers. Mourshed believes "many more aged forty-five-plus have the potential to do the job if only they can get in through the door."

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Age Discrimination Costs Everyone

Peter-van-eijk-eiDw0oX8YQQ-unsplashAnalysts, commentators and bloggers (including myself) have long been writing about the discriminatory actions of American businesses against workers as young as 50-plus. Companies have found numerous ways, such as reorganizations, downsizing, layoffs and the like, to evade federal laws against age discrimination. As a result, Boomer workers are often the first to be let go, even if they've had an excellent work record and have shown loyalty to their employer.

A startling report from AARP, based on research and analysis conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit, points to the economic impact of age discrimination in the workplace. First, here are some basic facts from the report about the 50-plus workforce:

  • 117.4 million people in the U.S. are age 50-plus
  • Because of the COVID 19 pandemic and other economic factors, many now plan to work well past the age of 65; in fact, over 40 percent of workers age 65-plus intend to continue working into their 70s
  • In 2018, the 50-plus population supported 88.6 million jobs and $5.7 trillion in wages and salaries; this demographic segment, just 35 percent of the total population, contributed 40 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Get ready for the real shocker. According to this study:

"The economy missed out on an additional $850 billion to U.S. GDP in 2018 -- a figure the size of Pennsylvania's economy -- because of age discrimination. This gap could rise to $3.9 trillion in 2050."

 The report goes on to state:

"Reducing involuntary retirement, underemployment, and unemployment duration among the 50-plus population could have driven an average increase of 4.1% in GDP in 2018. In 2050, an uplift of 6.3% could be generated."

AARP's "The Longevity Economy" (registered trademark) outlook "measures the 50-plus population's overall contribution to GDP, employment, wages and salaries, and taxes through 2050, and analyzes its unique effect within different industries. The economic contribution of people age 50-plus was worth $8.3 trillion in 2018, and it is forecast to more than triple to $26.8 trillion by 2050."

Digging into the report's data reveals some sobering observations:

  • People age 50 to 64 experience longer unemployment than other groups
  • Women age 50-plus spend an average of 31.4 weeks unemployed -- longer than men
  • Lower income workers are more likely to feel trapped in their present role as a result of age discrimination
  • Minorities feel less able to re-enter the workforce because of age discrimination
  • Involuntary retirement costs the economy the most.

Many of us may view age discrimination as patently unfair, treating it as a moral or ethical issue. That is certainly one way to look at it. But AARP has elevated the discussion of age discrimination to a new level, demonstrating its impact on the American economy as a whole. It's time for all Americans -- in particular business executives and political leaders -- to wake up to the real cost of age discrimination.

You can obtain the full AARP report (PDF) at the link below:

Download AARP-age-discrimination-economic-impact

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When It Comes to Hiring Boomers, Some Employers "Get It"

Krakenimages-8RXmc8pLX_I-unsplash OntheClockThere's a slowly growing phenomenon in the American workplace that represents some optimism for Boomers who want to keep working. While the pandemic has turned the workplace upside down for Boomers as well as other workers, some employers not only see the wisdom in retaining Boomer employees, they actually recruit them.

It is heartening to see journalists and job search sites reinforce this notion. In a recent article on Entrepreneur.com, for example, journalist John Boitnott (who appears to be younger than a Boomer) cites "5 Advantages Older Workers Have Over Other Job Candidates." Among the advantages Boitnott lists: "There's wisdom in experience," "They help create long-term organizational knowledge at your company," and "They're more technology-savvy than you think." Similarly, for recruitment service Recruiterbox, outreach manager Erin Engstrom positions hiring Boomers as increasing diversity. She writes, "When you hear 'hiring for diversity,' you likely think about efforts to hire more female employees, or members of underrepresented minority groups. Another important way to diversify your team, though, is through age." Engstrom offers "6 Reasons Baby Boomers are Great for Business" and discusses each in detail: Experience, Leadership, A Different Perspective, Credibility, Interpersonal Skills and Adaptability.

Granted, it remains a reality that Boomer workers are often discriminated against because of age, and that some employers are only too happy to dump a higher salaried Boomer during a downsizing. Still, enlightened employers recognize the value of the Boomer worker. Such efforts are boosted by initiatives like the "AARP Employer Pledge Program," which encourages employers to "stand with AARP in affirming the value of experienced workers." A list of over 1,000 Boomer-friendly companies who have signed the pledge can be found at https://www.aarp.org/work/job-search/employer-pledge-companies/ Increasingly, there are also other lists of companies that welcome Boomer workers, such as FORTUNE magazine's "20 Best Workplaces for Baby Boomers." We haven't yet reached the point at which every employer values and respects Boomer workers but we're slowly making progress.

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Boomers in the Workforce in 2021

OntheClock Screen Shot 2021-01-22 at 2.18.08 PMIt will come as no surprise that the number of Boomers who retired in 2020 increased dramatically. In the third quarter of 2020, 3.2 million more Boomers retired than in the third quarter of 2019, according to a recent report from the Pew Research Center. In Q3 2020, 28.6 million Boomers said they were now retired.

Behind the sobering statistic is, of course, pandemic-related job losses. Just as important, however, is the continuing ageism that exists in the American workplace. In some ways, the pandemic has provided convenient cover for companies to practice age discrimination. It is completely acceptable and even desirable for companies to eliminate Boomers first when reducing their workforces. It's almost always a financial decision, but as I've written about many times in the past, this is largely a short-sighted strategy. Boomers are typically the most experienced and often the most loyal workers. If they have been at a company for several years, Boomers also represent an invaluable knowledge base. By eliminating Boomers, companies are discarding a brain trust that is not easily replicated. Replacing such talent and depth with less experienced, less expensive workers is downright senseless.

Still, it happens with alarming frequency. The problem is compounded by corporate hiring practices which, again, are discriminatory on the basis of age.

So what's a Boomer who wants to work in 2021 supposed to do? Many Boomers will be forced into full-time positions of lesser responsibility that pay far below what their earning history should command. Others will have to restart their career in another field, facing entry level work. Some Boomers will find part-time work more attractive, even if it's menial. A growing percentage of Boomers will go into contract work or start their own businesses. Sadly, some Boomers will simply give up and involuntarily retire from the workforce.

Thankfully, there are organizations and resources filling an important need in assisting Boomers who want to continue working. One of them is AARP, which offers a number of resources, including the following:

  • The Work Reimagined website, a central point of information for older workers
  • The Job Loss site, with information for those who have suffered job or income loss due to the pandemic
  • The AARP Job Board, listing jobs from employers pledged to hire older workers

Do an internet search to find additional resources for older workers.

On the positive side, America's population is gradually aging, so employers who need workers may find they have no choice but to consider Boomers for open positions. Hopefully, that means we'll see more Boomers in the workforce in 2021.

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On the Hunt in '21

OntheClock Kelly-sikkema-uUBltZemj1E-unsplashIn my previous post, I suggested that many Boomers will be taking stock as they head toward next year, and some may be considering early retirement. The coronavirus pandemic may be one key factor in the current retirement rate, and data suggests more Boomers are in fact retiring. A recent Pew Research Center report indicates that, in Q3 2020, around 28.6 million Boomers said they were out of the work force due to retirement. That number was 3.2 million higher than in Q3 2019. Since February 2020, the number of retired Boomers has increased by about 1.1 million. (The percentage of increase was larger for Boomers 65 and older.) Contrast that to last year: The rise in Boomer retirees from February to September 2019 was only 250,000.

For some, however, early retirement is not an option. You may want to work or need to work in 2021. If so, an issue surrounding employment is likely to be an insidious factor -- ageism. I've written about the discriminatory nature of ageism in our society on many occasions, so I don't need to remind you that it is an ever-present reality when you are looking for a job.

Ageism is a challenge and there is no magic formula for breaking through the ageism barrier when seeking employment. Still, Boomers will find encouragement from prospective employers who value their experience and maturity. For older workers seeking employment next year, retirement coach Nancy Collamer solicited tips from other coaching colleagues and she offers this list of five solid tactics:

  1. Diversify your networking strategies
  2. Network before you need to do so
  3. Spiff up your LinkedIn presence
  4. Pivot to high-growth industries
  5. Get creative.

Read the details about each of these tactics in Nancy's NextAvenue article here: https://www.nextavenue.org/how-to-get-a-job-in-2021/

NextAvenue also offers an area of its website called Work & Purpose with helpful, informative articles concerning finding a job, starting a business, starting a new career, volunteering and workplace issues. Many other sources are available to Boomer job seekers -- AARP's Job Search Resources page is a good place to start. In addition to full-time employment, a growing number of  opportunities exist in freelance, consulting and part-time employment.

If you're "on the hunt" for work in 2021, stay positive. Know your capabilities, capitalize on your experience, cultivate contacts and be persistent. You have a lot to offer!

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The Real Dilemma for Older Workers

OntheClock Person-731423_1920For Boomers who want to or have to work and are seeking a new position, they often face a harsh reality: Accept a job that is far below their experience level and pay grade. In the Fall 2019 issue of Generations, the Journal of the American Society on Aging, Carl E. Van Horn and Maria Heidkamp write, "When older job seekers are able to find work, it often is temporary or part time, pays less than they had previously earned, and does not provide a full suite of benefits."

This reality seems counter-intuitive. Not only are Boomers highly experienced and dependable, they are actually an important and growing part of the U.S. labor market. By 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as much as one quarter of the workforce, over 42 million people, will be older workers, and workers older than age 65 are expected to remain in the labor market at a higher rate than their younger counterparts.

Still, as Van Horn and Heidkamp report, Boomers are often relegated to "precarious jobs" that are typically low paying and often consist of part-time, temporary and contract positions, most of which offer no benefits. It is estimated by BLS that 4.7 million workers are considered "involuntary part-time" because they could not find full-time positions. Almost 40 percent of these involuntary part-time workers had two or more jobs, and one third of them said they sometimes could not afford food, medication or healthcare in the past year.

Even older workers who are employed full time are vulnerable. Van Horn and Heidkamp cite this example: In New Jersey, a private organization called New Start Career Network (NSCN) was started to help the state's older job seekers who were long-term unemployed or underemployed. The organization surveyed its membership of more than 4,500 and compiled the results from 637 respondents. Less than half (45 percent) were employed when they answered the survey in 2018. About half (48 percent) of those employed worked full time, while 15 percent were employed in temporary or contract positions, 13 percent were voluntary part time, 12 percent were involuntary part time, and 5 percent were self-employed (6 percent classified their situation as "other").

Over three-quarters (76 percent) of those NSCN members who were employed "were earning less than they had before their long-term unemployment, and of this group that earned less, three in four (73 percent) estimated that their yearly earnings declined by more than $20,000. Only one in ten earned more than they had prior to their period of unemployment." This represents just one organization in one state, but it is typical of the employment experiences of millions of Boomer workers. (Van Horn and Heidkamp are both associated with the NSCN, which is funded by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.)

In their article, Van Horn and Heidkamp propose specific policy recommendations to help remedy the older worker dilemma in our country, including curtailing age discrimination in hiring and expanding access to transition assistance and lifelong learning. They conclude, "New policies are needed to provide [older workers] with the opportunities for work and a social safety net that reflects the contemporary labor market."

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Do You Need to (or Just Want to) Continue to Work as You Age?

OntheClock Hands-545394_1920There is no telling how the current global coronavirus crisis will impact every Boomer's retirement plan and income. Regardless, the notion of working past retirement age is already a fact for Boomers, many of whom don't even agree on the definition of "retirement age." The traditional retirement age of 65 seems all but ridiculously outdated. So the question really isn't whether or not Boomers need to or want to work past retirement age, but rather how long they are able to generate some sort of income.

I've previously written about the various ways Boomers can do that, from full-time employment (often in businesses they own), to working side jobs, to working part-time. I personally know some Boomers who fully intend to work in one form or another, based on financial need or just to stay active, until they simply cannot physically and mentally do it anymore. There are plenty of stories about people in their 70s and 80s -- and a few rare cases in their 90s -- who continue to work.

Planning for late-stage work is something you can do before you get there, as my colleague Nancy Collamer points out in an article for Forbes. Nancy poses six excellent questions (along with helpful commentary) that you should ask yourself if you need to or want to work as you age:

  1. Does your employer offer a phased retirement program?
    While these types of program are rare, you might be able to negotiate a phase-out with your employer, perhaps working on a part-time basis and mentoring other employees.
  2. What are your income goals?
    The more income you need to or want to earn, the more likely it is that your professional career or past work experience will need to be leveraged in a new income-generating role.
  3. Beyond earning an income, why do you want to work in retirement?
    Nancy suggests making a list of three to five reasons why you want to continue to work -- maybe its community, routine or sense of purpose. Your key motivators will help you pursue the best options moving forward.
  4. What's on your "chuck-it" list?
    You've no doubt heard of the "bucket" list, but the "chuck-it" list is comprised of the things about work you'd be happy to leave behind. Here again, Nancy suggests listing your top three to five non-negotiable work factors -- so you know what you'd like to avoid.
  5. What type of job flexibility do you seek in semi-retirement?
    Understand your lifestyle goals so you can define the type of job that is the best fit for you. Do you need a flexible work schedule? How many days per week do you want to work? Do you want summers off? 
  6. What is your appetite for risk?
    Think about how much risk you are willing to take. Maybe you are in a situation where volunteering will be fulfilling enough and you can risk not generating work-related income. On the other hand, maybe you are ready to take a financial risk by starting your own business, which may involve an investment.

These six questions are an excellent start in framing the answer to the ultimate questions of why and how you will continue to work as you age.

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Still Working Full Time? Get Ready to Be Fired

OntheClock Keyboard-155722_1920In modern-day America, nothing seems to be as tenuous as a Boomer's full-time job. The federal ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act), intended to protect Boomers from employment-related age discrimination, has been found to be largely unenforceable when it comes to layoffs or firings, even if they appear to be motivated by the employee's age. Consider it one more empty government "guarantee" to protect citizens.

Writing for Knowledge@Wharton, Jeff Pundyk, former publisher of The McKinsey Quarterly, claims: "Mid- and late-career management is being hollowed out by consolidation, technology, the gig economy and globalization, leaving experienced workers unprepared to navigate the new world of work. ...Too often when experienced workers who have developed the skills to rise within an organization find themselves displaced or stuck among a shrinking cohort, their skills, expectations, and experience fail them. And the older they are, the greater the risk — and the tougher it can be to find something new."

Unfortunately, this may sound like very familiar territory to accomplished employed Boomers, who are the most vulnerable to the whims of corporate management when it comes time to jettison highly compensated employees. Pundyk writes "Those who can adapt will both shore up their value within their organization and be better prepared should they find themselves on the outs." He offers some excellent advice for Boomers in his article:

  1. Adopt an "untitled mindset."
  2. Develop a portfolio of projects.
  3. Save for the worst case.
  4. Embrace ambiguity.
  5. Always be learning.
  6. Know your story, and
  7. Tell it.

Read Pundyk's insightful article for further details on each of these strategies.

Pundyk's conclusion: "Having a job no longer solves for stability. It can provide some sense of security for as long as it lasts, but don’t mistake short-term security for long-term stability. With the right mindset, however, stability can come from you, not from your employer."

Excellent observations worth pondering.

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Working "On the Side"

OntheClock Piggy-bank-2889046_1920For those retiring Boomers who can put together a number of sources of income to pay the bills, working "on the side" may be an attractive option. It offers flexibility to do other things in retirement.

This creative way of thinking about part-time employment focuses on generating what I call "gravy income" -- income that is not absolutely essential but subsidizes other income. It's even better if working on the side offers the opportunity to pursue gigs, freelancing or contract work (whatever you want to call it) using skills from your past full-time working life. This can be both gratifying and stimulating. 

If that sounds like something for you, take a look at "The Retiree's Guide to Starting a Side Hustle," published by The Balance. Writer Sarah Szczypinski first discusses the steps to "side hustling," including how to coordinate it with Social Security, create an online presence and use your skills. She then provides descriptions of and links to various professional websites that act as entry points to potential work, some of which can be done entirely online. Opportunities include paid mentoring, consulting and all types of contract work. An additional consideration, she says, is to rent out a room or a second home with a service such as Airbnb which can substantially bolster a retiree's income.

Szczypinski writes, "The gig economy isn’t going away, and there’s a sea of opportunity (and income!) available for those who search. Take advantage of flexibility in retirement and dive in. A side hustle can lessen the financial burdens of aging."

Working only when you want on a flexible schedule and generating gravy income sounds like a pretty good post-full-time employment life, doesn't it?

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