Baby Boomers Over 50 Pushed Out of Jobs

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.

Older workers being pushed out of jobs.

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.




Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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16 Responses

  1. Great article Julie!
    Thanks for sharing,

  2. I have always wondered who came up with the idea of a retirement age? We were built to work! In so many ways it’s a better way to grow old!
    It’s true that things unforeseen can limit your choices in the workplace. But if you have the mental disposition of “no retirement ” then what difference does it make anyway!
    Retirement is what kills!

    • juliegorges says:

      Actually, I know a few people who retired really early – and you are right. They did not live to be very old. You may have a point!

      • Gary Francis says:

        I ‘retired’ at 59 and set up a travel company. I knew I had to have something that kept me occupied and it had to be something I loved doing.

        • juliegorges says:

          So many baby boomers are finding “encore careers” and loving it – just like you. So glad you found a way to make your “retirement” years exciting and fulfilling. Big thanks for stopping by and sharing your story!

  3. James Milson says:

    A wonderful post with hopefully helpful and perhaps eye-opening information for those in the mentioned age group, Julie. There has always been a vast separation between the ways our Western society approaches aging and the elderly, as compared to the East where age, experience, and acquired wisdom have traditionally been treasured and respected. Such a loss here as those beneficial attributes are cast aside. The same movement towards younger, lower cost workers has been evident in Major League Baseball the past two off-seasons, as well, with older “30+” age players having a harder and harder time being signed by teams intent on fielding young, cost-controlled players. Sadly, I expect this trend to continue, and urge younger workers now to anticipate, plan, and prepare for a second, later stage career or endeavor.

  4. It seems strange to me now when I think back about our grandparents. Once they hit a certain age, it was without question for them to retire. Now days, I see people out there working much older than they were at that time.
    Sadly, there was not as much for them to do back then. I feel like I see the older generation taking advantage of a lot of great things, learning new skills, and yes, lots of them are working and don’t plan to stop. I think it’s healthy to have the mind set to always stay working in something and stay busy.
    Thanks again for sharing your insightful article Julie.
    Have a great weekend,

    • juliegorges says:

      I agree, Rosie, that it’s important to stay interested, busy, and productive into old age. Thank-goodness, I think we baby boomers are doing a pretty good job of that!

  5. Cat Michaels says:

    Been there. Done that. Walked in those painful shoes before finding myself in a community college system, where wisdom is appreciated more than it is in the public sector, and eventually jumping off into my own business.

  6. Gary Francis says:

    It’s interesting that politicians (in Australia) keep talking about the need for people to keep working into their late 60s if not beyond, but the opportunities for mature workers dry up and often older staff are among the first to be cast aside during a downturn.
    Maybe over time this will change, but it just seems to prevalent at the moment.
    Thanks for the article.

  7. Sadly this problem is worldwide. We have suffered from this in recent years. I have watched younger teachers be placed in positions over myself because higher university studies have been valued over experience. Then hubby has been out of work for several years causing us to use most of our savings. He is now in a good earning position to help us recover, but had to go overseas to find it.

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