Older Americans Looking for Employment

Some past retirement age are staying in workforce, using special attributes they gained over a lifetime
September 4, 2020 Updated: September 4, 2020

Do you remember the days when everyone seemed to retire on or before that ominous 65th birthday? Well, that was then, and this is now. Research says in recent years, there have been more older adults employed than ever before, and they are often being given jobs that are categorized as age-appropriate.

According to Matthew Rutledge, an economist at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, older workers seem to be clustered in what is referred to as “lower-skilled service jobs.” For example, older workers are 65 percent more likely to find jobs in child care, 93 percent more likely to find work as cab drivers, and twice as likely to find work in retail.

Rutledge learned that these workers are at a disadvantage when it comes to engineering or physical work but considered well-suited for jobs such as real estate sales or property management. Sadly, most of the jobs available to older employees tend to pay 6 percent to 10 percent less than positions that favor younger employees, frequently because younger workers tend to be technically adept.

If you’re an older worker and don’t already have a job, however, finding one in today’s economic climate will be challenging. David Neumark, an economist at the University of California at Irvine, says that older workers sometimes never even get the chance to interview. He led a study that sent 40,000 fake resumes to employers who had advertised job openings. The resumes that hinted the applicant was 64 to 66 years old received 35 percent fewer responses than those suggesting the applicant was 29 to 31.

I was surprised to learn that according to the Urban Institute’s Richard Johnson, between 2008 and 2012, workers aged 62 and older with a college degree had less than a 50 percent chance of finding a job after two years of actively looking for work. The number fell to just 35 percent for those in the same age group who didn’t have a college degree. Still, employment experts are reluctant to label these differences as signs of age discrimination.

In spite of these parameters, however, labor force participation rates for older Americans have actually been rising for the past decade. And increasing numbers of seniors are holding down full-time jobs even though challenging factors like ill-health, caregiving responsibilities, and a need for a flexible schedule can make continued employment unappealing, difficult, or impossible.

In 2012, the number of workers aged 75 and older numbered 1.3 million. This number is more than double what it was a few decades ago, but it still comprises less than 1 percent of the total labor force. In 1990, 4.3 percent of workers over the age of 75 were looking for a job; in 2012, that number was 7.6 percent. And it’s projected to reach 10 percent by 2020.

Dr. Michael North, a postdoctoral researcher of Columbia University’s psychology department, says that older workers may have lower levels of what is called “fluid intelligence,” i.e. the ability to master new technical skills. But they have valuable “soft skills” that have developed over a lifetime of productive employment. These include the following:

  • A higher level of overall agreeableness
  • Better grasp of language complexity
  • Greater emotional stability
  • Increased depth and breadth of wisdom
  • More advanced reasoning abilities

Many mature Americans (like me) want to hold on to a job because they don’t feel ready—either emotionally or financially—to retire. After all, work is the golden ticket that gives our lives meaning and purpose.

Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker, and journalist in both the UK and the U.S. She is the author of “The Self-Empowered Woman” blog and the award-winning memoir “One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes.” She can be reached at MarilynWillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at Creators.com. Copyright 2020 Creators.com