New data released last month was disturbing for the 85% of baby boomers still working. Many don’t have enough saved for retirement or simply aren’t ready to leave the working world behind. Some say they plan to continue working into their 70’s and even 80s, according to a 2017 report, America’s Aging Workforce.
Unfortunately, new analysis by ProPublica and the Urban Institute published last month shows that the decision may not be up to them. Dismally, more than half of employees over the age of 50 are being pushed out of longtime jobs before they choose to retire. Most suffer financially and only one in 10 of these workers ever earns as much as they did before their employment setbacks.
Apparently, 50 is the new 65.
The analysis was based on data from the Health and Retirement Study that began tracking 20,000 people in 1992, from the time the participants turned 50 through the rest of their lives. The study focused on workers who entered their 50s with stable, full-time jobs, and who have been with the same employer for at least five years.
The results are sobering. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are currently 40 million Americans age 50 and older who are working. That means, according to this study, that 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 financially – or ever will.
Unfortunately, this problem could be worse than we think. Jeffrey Wenger, a senior labor economist with the RAND Corp., claims some older people are likely laid off, but cover it up by saying they retired. “There’s so much social stigma around being separated from work,” he says, “even people who are fired or let go will say they retired to save face.”
As a result, the steady earnings that many boomers count on in their 50s, 60s, and beyond to build up their retirement savings and ensure financial security often disappears.
“This isn’t how most people think they’re going to finish out their work lives,” said Richard Johnson, an Urban Institute economist and veteran scholar of the older labor force who worked on the analysis. “For the majority of older Americans, working after 50 is considerably riskier and more turbulent than we previously thought.”
What can older workers do?
You may be thinking, wait a minute. Isn’t it illegal under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act for employers to treat older workers differently than younger ones? Yes, but employers can be sneaky about the way they fire older employees, Often phrases like “layoff” and “job elimination” are used as an excuse for age discrimination. No matter. You may have legal recourse and an age discrimination claim if:
- you experience a layoff and notice that less-qualified, younger employees at the same level are not being laid off.
- your company claims to be eliminating a job, but simply changes the title and puts someone younger in the same position.
- you’re being targeted for poor performance while younger employees doing the same things aren’t suffering any consequences.
In addition, there are some steps you can take to prevent being laid off. Although there are no guarantees, experts recommend the following strategies to enhance job security:
- A common myth concerning older workers is that people over 50 are rigid. You can prove this disparaging idea wrong by remaining flexible, resilient, and adaptable.
- Understand your company’s objectives and your boss’s priorities, and then align your work performance with them. In other words, find ways to make your boss’s job easier and make yourself indispensable.
- Do not contribute to the false belief that all old people are cranky and difficult. Be friendly, cooperative, and helpful. Makes sure management likes you and be the kind of person others enjoy working with and hanging around.
- Brag a little. Ensure that your boss knows about any improvements you’ve implemented, challenges you’ve overcome, and projects and goals you’ve completely successfully.
- Be careful not to give the impression that you lack initiative and are simply coasting along until retirement, which can make you vulnerable during a layoff. Make a point of continuously updating your skills and expanding your knowledge. Read journals, take courses, attend conferences, or attain additional certifications in your field.
Finally, while it’s important for everyone to have emergency savings, if you’re 50 or older, it’s even more critical to have a strong financial safety net. Have enough savings on hand to ride out a potentially lengthy period of unemployment.