Two Takes on Older Americans in the Workplace

Posted on December 20, 2011

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Is the phenomenon of people staying in the workplace long past the traditional retirement something positive, or yet another sign of our economic malaise? Depends on whom you ask.

The glass-half-full perspective is provided by Marc Freedman writing for the Atlantic. The article, Old Dogs, New Tricks: Why More Seniors are Starting Companies, shows things in a pretty favorable light. Freedman highlights some interesting trends, such as the fact that for 11 of the 15 years between 1996 and 2010, Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 had the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity of any age group. Or the fact that the number of Americans over age 50 entering divinity school has doubled since 1990. These and similar observations point to a generation that is voluntarily staying in the workforce and contributing in meaningful ways to the economy and society.

The Wall Street Journal gives us the glass-half-empty story. In an article entitled Oldest Baby Boomers Face Jobs Bust, E.S. Browning paints a very different picture:

Many older Americans fear they will be working well into their 60s because they didn’t save enough to retire. Millions more wish they were that lucky: Without full-time jobs, they are short of money and afraid of what lies ahead. . . .

Older Baby Boomers are trying to postpone retirement, as many find their spending habits far outpaced their thrift. With U.S.unemployment at 8.6%, and much higher among people in their teens and 20s, younger members of the labor pool accuse Boomers of refusing to gracefully exit the workplace.

But their long-held grip is slipping, as employers look past older Americans to younger, cheaper workers.

One statistic from the Journal article stands out: workers in the 55 to 64 age group have the longest average duration of unemployment of any age group – 56.6 weeks. So while there are many Baby Boomers who are launching “encore careers” or otherwise finding gainful employment in today’s economy, for those older Americans who are searching for work the way forward may not be so clear.

Posted in: Economy