Not Ready to Walk Away – Why Older Americans are Reclaiming the Workplace Again

We’ve all seen the headlines: “Ageism is keeping older adults out of the workforce,” or “Older workers have a hard time getting back into the work place after pandemic.” These headlines, though not shocking for those of us who understand the trends in employment, completely ignore the fact that “3.2% of workers who were retired just one year ago are employed again,” and that many industries, including gig work like DoorDash and service-based employment, are seeing an uptick in the amount of Baby Boomers and those older returning to work. So, sure ageism is alive and well in the world of work, but is our country in another turn like the one it took post WWII where the older generation grew the workforce and helped stabilize the economy with half of the male population over the age of 65 in the formal labor market? According to experts, we may be. And for many, that is not a bad thing.

America needs an older workforce. Older Americans have proven to be more dependable, timely, reliable, productive, and loyal to their employers, even when their employers were not necessarily loyal to them. However, it pays to focus on older workers in terms of new hires, especially in the face of the Great Resignation, where pandemic uncertainty, burnout, and better pay elsewhere factored in among other reasons, led to nearly 4 million people quit their jobs per month in 2021 alone. The biggest demographic for those leaving the workplace were between the ages of 18-29 during that time period, which has continued into 2022. However, “as for those 65 and older, Covid led to the largest decrease in decades for that age group participating in the labor force.” These stories don’t fit into the story of the Great Resignation. With the risks to their health and safety, along with the increased economic fallout, many retired or resigned earlier than they wanted. However, the silver lining here is that only 1.2% of folks between ages 55 and 64 actually left their jobs, holding strong while older and younger peers left for their own reasons. These individuals make up a good portion of today’s current workforce.

So, where are our older workers? Turns out, many of them are still working or on their way back to work. Employers around the country are taking note of this trend and focusing hiring efforts on older Americans, and for good reason. Ageism in the American workplace costs more than just the livelihood of those older workers. “An AARP-funded report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (now Economist Impact), estimated that the U.S. economy missed out on adding an additional $850 billion to its GDP in 2018—”a figure the size of Pennsylvania’s economy”—due to age discrimination and the exclusion of older people from the labor market.” Also, companies who focus on a diverse population of workers by age have shown greater employee satisfaction, greater mentorship among employees, and greater retention rates! Employers who continue to market their openings to older workers also report greater satisfaction with their potential candidates, noting that the workplace is better with older workers in it. In fact, many employers are now adding age and age-related factors into the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices to help stake their claim in the fight against ageism and attract a more mature workforce.

America is now in a period of time some call the “Great Re-engagement,” with many retirees finding a new life in work. In an Esquire piece called “The Great Resignation Whiplash,” Jayne Jamison, a senior VP for a media company has decided to end her retirement she took during Covid and come back to work full force. “After almost two years, I am ready for reentry. I miss the camaraderie, stimulation, and feeling of accomplishment that work provides…The last two years have taught me many things, including that I am wired to work. My father worked until he was 80, so I know I’ve got many more years left to contribute.” While she wants something, like many of us, that offers flexibility and remote work options, she is one of many who have taken the Gone Fishin’ sign off the office door and replaced it with a Welcome mat.

Between boredom and isolation, many older Americans are citing emotional and social reasons to return to work. According to The Wall Street Journal, “The share of people 75 and older in the labor force is expected to grow by 96% over the next decade, while those 16 to 24 years old will shrink by 7.5%.” As Americans are living longer, many are finding more reason than ever to stay active in the workforce, and now the Baby Boomer generation will be the pioneers of the new work movement. There is less of a focus now on the 40-year work life, as the spotlight shines on a new 60-year work life. By 2030, all Baby Boomers will be at least 65 years old and will be 9.5% of the labor force. Older Americans are starting new career paths after leaving old ones, demanding remote and flexible work options, and learning new skills in greater numbers now than ever before, and that is inspiring for people of all ages, including younger Americans watching what work can look like for them as they age. Youngsters are still looking up to their older peers for both a roadmap of today and a path forward into tomorrow. And, with more employers seeking generational diversity in the workforce, there is no time like the present for older Americans to help pave that path forward for workers in all industries, of all ages.  

Want to be a part of the Great Re-Engagement? VANTAGE Aging can help low-income adults aged 55 and older get the skills they need, the certifications they want, and the job placement they deserve to remain active and essential in the work place. From our digital inclusion program that helps you learn the important technical skills many employers require to industry leading certifications to help you learn new skills while you utilize your life experience, VANTAGE Aging’s Workforce Solutions program may be exactly what you are looking for. From nonprofits who are looking for older workers to private sector employers seeking to train older workers and hire them on, there is something for everyone within Workforce Solutions. And, since workers through the Workforce Solutions program earn as they learn, VANTAGE Aging helps make a positive emotional, social, mental, and financial difference in the lives of older workers in Ohio. If you, or someone you know, is 55 or older, not working and seeking work opportunities, you can call 330-253-4597 or apply online today to get started.

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