Age Discrimination is Alive and Well

MusingsAge discrimination in the American workplace remains problematic for anyone over the age of 50. An ongoing study by Pro Publica and the Urban Institute, has followed since 1992 a nationally representative sample of about 20,000 people from the time they turn 50 through the rest of their lives. Through 2016, the study found that 56 percent of this sample were laid off at least once or left jobs under financially damaging circumstances. The analysis further showed that only 10 percent of these workers ever again earn as much as they did before their employment setbacks. Richard Johnson, an urban economist from the Urban Institute who worked on the study, concluded, “For the majority of older Americans, working after 50 is considerably riskier and more turbulent than we previously thought.”

There is strong evidence from the study that a majority of Americans over 50 with stable jobs are pushed out of work. The study showed that "28 percent of stable, longtime employees sustain at least one damaging layoff by their employers between turning 50 and leaving work for retirement... An additional 13 percent of workers who start their 50s in long-held positions unexpectedly retire under conditions that suggest they were forced out."

The bottom line: The data analysis conducted suggests "as many as 22 million of these people have or will suffer a layoff, forced retirement or other involuntary job separation. Of these, only a little over 2 million have recovered or will." In an excellent article on Pro Publica about age discrimination and the results of the study, Carl Van Horn, a Rutgers University professor and director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, commented, “There’s no safe haven in today’s labor market. Even older workers who have held jobs with the same employer for decades may be laid off without warning.”

This is not the first time I have reported on age discrimination in this blog. The more I read about age discrimination, the more I wonder if it is representative of a broader societal attitude toward aging. Employers routinely discriminate against older employees, hiring younger (i.e. less expensive) employees to take their place -- making the federal age discrimination law nothing more than a paper tiger. It is true that a few companies boast hiring older employees, but it is comparatively only a handful. 

Are we really at the stage where people over 50 can be thrown out of the workforce simply because of their age? Apparently, the answer is yes. Imagine the experience and knowledge base that is being tossed out as well. It's a sad commentary with no end in sight.


How Do You Define "Old"?

MusingsAs Boomers age, they are likely to redefine old age based on their own lives and perceptions. In a recent article for The New York Times, Steven Petrow asks the provocative question, "Am I 'Old'?" and discovers that the answer is entirely different based on who is being asked. Sergei Scherbov, a researcher on aging, answers the question with a broader definition, telling Petrow that "an old age threshold should not be fixed but depend on the characteristics of people.” He sees such factors as life expectancy, disability rates, cognitive function, and personal health as contributing to the definition of old age. Thankfully, says Scherbov, a 65-year old today is generally equivalent to a 55-year old from forty-five years ago.

It turns out that different generations define "old age" differently, too. According to Petrow, we Boomers generally regard 73 as the start of old age, while Gen Xers think it is more like 65 years of age. Meanwhile, Millennials believe 59 is "old."

Sadly, the negative perceptions of elders is a universal phenomenon: Well over half (almost two-thirds) of respondents to an international survey by the World Health Organization "did not respect older people," writes Petrow. In high-income countries such as the U.S., the lack of respect for older people was highest.

Ultimately, we all define old age in personal, subjective terms. Those of us who are spry, active and healthy at 65 or 70 probably perceive old age as far in the future, while Boomers afflicted with health issues or limited mobility may feel differently. Being engaged and vital, having a full and rich life, and feeling useful may all contribute to seeing aging in a positive light.

How do you define "old"? Maybe the best way to look at it is simply, "You're only as old as you think you are."


The Work Dilemma of the "Tweener"

MusingsI've noticed more and more reporting on the work dilemma of the "tweener" -- the 50s-something Boomer who finds himself or herself in that strange transitional role somewhere between full-time work and retirement. Many of these younger Boomers have come to the realization that they will need to work longer than they may have anticipated simply because they need to fund living longer. Others, even if financially secure, recognize that they need to work to feel fulfilled.

A recent article in The New York Times characterizes this time of life as one in which the Boomer needs to become a "modern elder," says Chip Conley who, after running his own company for twenty-four years, was asked to mentor executives in a technology company. It put him in the unusual position of an industry expert with very little in the way of technology experience or, as the article states, "he was often the oldest person in the room, learning from colleagues who were young enough to be his children."

In his new book, Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, Conley further details his own experience and explores the concept of the modern elder. He believes the modern elder 's role is "simultaneously sharing wisdom while embracing fresh ideas and ways of thinking." The article's author, Marci Alboher, was inspired by Conley to seek out other role models for the modern elder, and she says she found a lot of them, all in their 50s. She admits that she also learned, however, that "it helps to have a financial safety net" if you are going to consider a more non-traditional work role such as Conley discovered.

Boomers in their 50s are often faced with this kind of dilemma, either because they are summarily dismissed from the full-time job they had for decades, or they tire of it and want a new challenge. The fundamental problem in our society is people in their 50s, 60s and 70s are thrown on the scrapheap rather than offered employment opportunities that take advantage of their years of experience. Thankfully, some companies are enlightened and work with older employees to transition them out of a full-time job to a part-time or consultative role, but that is rare. Instead, Boomer employees are discriminated against because of age. They lose the jobs they have and then cannot get another position because they are overlooked in favor of younger employees. The sad fact is that a company that terminates a Boomer employee due to age is often losing the value of the employee's considerable knowledge base.

Perhaps the "modern elder" model will take hold, but in order for that to happen, employers have to acknowledge the value of contracting with Boomers, and Boomers have to be in a position to risk taking on non-traditional employment. Still, being a modern elder presents another novel option for Boomers who need to or want to work and are excluded from the job market.


Yes, You can Start a Business This Year

OnYourOwnThere's a boom in small business, and a significant percentage of it is being driven by Boomers. As much as one-quarter of all new businesses are started by Boomers age 55 to 64, according to the 2017 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity. Older entrepreneurs, even beyond the age of 64, are becoming increasingly common.

The rise in Boomer businesses is not all that unusual. Highly skilled Boomers who are let go from the workplace find that they can leverage their expertise and skills into starting their own business. Boomers who may be tired of working for someone else may see a real opportunity in being self-employed. Still, Boomers should be aware of a sobering statistic reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Half of all small businesses fail by their fifth year.

That doesn't prevent plenty of Boomers from starting a business, but as with anything else, a key to success is going into it with your eyes wide open. Here's some great advice from a Forbes article by Robin Ryan.  She spoke with three experts on business startups and garnered these main points:

Focus on a target audience: Your chances of success are greater if you target a niche and know exactly who your prospects are.

Define your perfect client: "You need to be clear and know the exact type of person you seek to work with, and who will benefit most from working with you."

Go where the prospects are: Once you know who you are targeting, look for them in the right places: the organizations they belong to, the meetings they attend, the publications they read, the websites they visit, etc.

My wife and I left the traditional workforce in our late 50s to strike out on our own. We started a small service business and ran it together for seven years. After selling that business, I became an independent marketing consultant/freelance writer. Both of these reinventions have worked well for me.

Starting a business isn't for every Boomer, but it definitely presents a viable option for many of us.


Freeing Yourself with Creativity in Retirement

MusingsOne of the more intriguing avenues open to retirees is to find your creative self. I have personally witnessed creative transformations occur when Boomers retire. I know one business executive who turned his attention to working with wood and has created exceptional pieces as a result. I know another professional who took up jewelry making, and yet another who pursued a love of art and has become a successful water colorist. I myself have followed my muse and become a freelance writer.

Patricia Corrigan, writing for NextAvenue.org, reports on four retirees who were unafraid to pursue their passions: a doctor who became a sculptor, an aeronautics engineer who began to make chocolate, a retired CEO who took up photography, and a retired buyer at a manufacturing firm who knits scarves. Their stories are well worth reading.

Chocolate maker Doug Cale had this to say about his second act: “For me, life is all about engagement. Coming up with new ways to do things day in and day out, what I get out of this job is the creativity. And being creative is a form of relaxation for me.”

Like so many other things in life, and especially as we face retirement, a positive attitude is everything. The four people Corrigan writes about are no more or less unique than any of us -- they just had a passion and the courage to follow it. They freed themselves and found their own creativity in completely different ways.

Your second act should be a time when you pursue what you love. Perhaps it is something you remember from your childhood, something you always wanted to do but never had the time to do. Or maybe it is a new-found interest. Whether it is for fun or profit, creativity can bring a lot of joy and fulfillment to retirement. Try it!


Should You Freelance in 2019?

OnYourOwnMore and more Boomers face the work-life dilemma as they age. While there is no single perfect solution for everyone, an attractive option may be freelancing. This type of contract or hourly work used to be reserved for writers, designers, photographers and other creative types, but today, freelancing has a much broader definition. That's because the "gig economy" is thriving, so it is possible to freelance in just about any field. A recent study indicates that as much as 35 percent of the American population freelances, and more than half of them (51 percent) prefer freelancing to a traditional job, stating that "no amount of money" would make them switch. Another study puts the typical freelancer's hourly wage at $31 per hour -- but that can go much higher depending upon the market.

There was a time when Boomers only freelanced as "consultants" between jobs -- it was more of a pit stop along the way to "real" employment. Now, however, many Boomers are finding that freelance work can be personally and financially rewarding. It can provide you with a flexible work situation and decent income to supplement retirement savings.

Here are two helpful articles from The Balance that offer valuable information about freelancing:

"The Average Freelancer Salary in the U.S." - In this article, you'll find typical hourly and annual income figures for freelance positions in IT/Programming, Design and Multimedia, Writing and Translation, Sales and Marketing, Engineering and Manufacturing, Legal Services, and Administrative and Customer Support. 

"Best Second Job Ideas" - While this article primarily addresses freelancing as a second job, it offers an excellent overview of the freelance and second job market. It also offers a comprehensive list of "best second jobs" in alphabetical order from A to Z. This list is a great idea starter if you are uncertain what type of freelance position you might want to seek.

In addition to the above articles, do a search on freelance jobs and you'll discover a wealth of resources available to you. Maybe freelancing is the work-life solution you are looking for.


Job Search Sites May be the Best Option for Boomers

OntheClockYou've heard it over and over again -- and perhaps faced it yourself: Ageism, aka age discrimination, is rampant in American business. This makes it especially difficult for Boomers to find employment, because they can be silently discriminated against. As a result, the best option for job-searching Boomers may be to take advantage of the Internet. Numerous job search sites are available, and some even specialize in helping Boomers secure positions. Here are a few that might help:

  • RetirementJobs.com
    RetirementJobs.com, Inc. now has more than one million members nationwide. The site's goal is to identify companies most-suited to older workers and match them with active, productive, conscientious, mature adults seeking a job or project that matches their lifestyle. The RetirementJobs.com service is completely free for job seekers. The service provides the option of upgrading to a premium service which gives access to seminars and special content, and enables job seekers to easily identify job openings from employers they have certified or pre-certified as age friendly.
  • FlexJobs.com 
    FlexJobs.com hand-screens flexible jobs, which it defines as remote, telecommute, part-time and/or freelance jobs. The site has professional job listings in over 50 career categories ranging from entry-level to executive, freelance to full-time, and local to global. FlexJobs charges for its service because it says it is "a premium job search service, offering you personalized support, curated and trusted resources, and guiding tools to help you in your job search, your career, and your work-life fit."
  • AARP Working at 50+
    Part of the AARP.org website, AARP Working at 50+ is an informational site with articles about staying competitive, age discrimination, work-life balance, and planning for retirement. The site also has an "AARP Job Board" to enable searching for positions by job, title, or company within cities/states.
  • Overcoming Age Discrimination in the Hiring Process
    (The National Council for Aging Care) While this is not a job search site, it contains excellent information for Boomers regarding industries, age discrimination, how to make yourself more marketable, and more.

If you need more sources, do a search on "jobs for Boomers" and you will find numerous other sites that may be of help. And be sure to check out this great list of resources from Nancy Collamer posted on Forbes.com. 


Learning from Other Retirees About Retirement

MusingsOne of the best ways to meet the challenges of retirement is to learn how others handle it. My colleague Nancy Collamer, career and retirement coach and author of Second-Act Careers, recently chatted with a group of retired United Way executives and summarized what she learned in an excellent article for NextAvenue.org. I highly recommend you read the complete article here:  https://www.nextavenue.org/retirement-lessons/ 

Nancy's six key takeaways from the article are listed below:

  1. Embrace "productive" leisure activities.
  2. Set goals.
  3. Share your professional expertise (on a flexible basis).
  4. Keep learning.
  5. Cultivate your creativity.
  6. Pass it down.

I'm always struck by the good advice retirees willingly share. They are the first to recognize that the road to retirement has twists, turns, and bumps along the way, but most of them are unfailingly confident of their ability to overcome the challenges of retirement. One thing I have noticed about the people who are most successful in retirement is that they always seem to have a positive attitude, whatever life throws their way. That is a good lesson for all of us!


There's a Right Way to Retire from Your Job

MusingsMany Boomers don't have the luxury of retiring from their job. Others are forced out because of age discrimination. Still others decide that it really is time to retire.

There's a right way to retire from your job. In the best of all scenarios, leaving a job will be on your timeframe and will cause no ill will between you and your employer. A truly enlightened employer might even work with you on a phased retirement or a creative arrangement, such as rehiring you as a part-time contractor after you leave your full-time position.

Writing for The Balance, retirement book author and financial writer Melissa Phipps offers ten valuable tips for retiring from your job, among them, "Be sure you really want to retire," "Check out alternative careers," and "Consider phasing in retirement." Phipps points out that some early retirees make the decision to retire because they face an undesirable job situation. This may not be the best reason to retire; instead, you may want to try to work with your employer to improve your job or change it within the same organization. Or, if that doesn't work, maybe it's time to consider pursuing an alternative career instead of retiring.

Before you decide to retire, advises Phipps, make sure you are financially secure and that you have health insurance. It also makes sense to consult with a financial adviser. In addition, anticipate the fact that, even if you retire now, you may want to (or have to) return to the workforce. That means you should get references when you retire and be sure to leave your position on a positive note. Another interesting idea is to "test drive" retirement: If you have the type of job that allows you to take some time off, experiment with the kinds of things you would like to do in retirement and see if it's a lifestyle you would enjoy.


"Phased Retirement" is a National Dilemma

OntheClockIt sounds like a credible solution for older workers: Why not allow them to phase out of their jobs into retirement? The reality, of course, is it is easier said than done. The Government Accounting Office (GAO) reported on phased retirement programs and found that, while the number of older workers in the labor market has increased in the last decade, "most individuals ages 61 to 66 who were still working maintained a full-time work schedule." A quarter (25 percent) of them had planned to reduce their hours as they transitioned to retirement, but less than 15 percent actually reported being partly retired or gradually retiring from their career jobs.

According to a review by the GAO, "formal phased retirement programs are relatively uncommon." They appear to be more common among employers with larger technical and professional workforces. Industries with skilled workers or with labor shortages have a higher motivation to offer phased retirement to older workers because these employees are more difficult to replace.

In addition, formal phased retirement programs are challenging for companies to institute. One of the reasons for this is compliance with existing laws. The GAO reviewed a particular study that indicated 71 percent of large employers "agreed that regulatory complexities and ambiguities involving federal tax and age discrimination laws impact their ability to offer phased retirement programs." Still, the GAO found that those employers who did institute phased retirement programs found them beneficial because of factors such as worker retention, knowledge transfer, and workplace planning.

The sad truth is phased retirement is something of a national dilemma. Boomers want to, and in many cases, have to work. Those individuals who are in professional careers or are highly skilled at their jobs are valuable employees, but more and more companies seem to throw them onto a scrap heap and opt to replace them with younger, less expensive (but less knowledgeable) workers. Only when it directly benefits the company, or the company's senior management is enlightened enough to see the value, will that company consider implementing any kind of phased retirement. Obviously, laws and regulations that make phased retirement unattractive are not helping the situation.

There is no easy solution to the phased retirement dilemma. It is simply not a national trend or, it seems, a national priority. It may actually be up to you, the individual worker, to impress upon your employer the value of allowing you to phase into retirement.