Combating ageism: The value of older workers
By Kathleen Harte Simone
Older adults provide a vital service in today’s workforce. In fact, the percentage of working Americans who are 55 or older has climbed over the last decade, with a dip due to COVID-19. In 2020, a robust 48% of older Americans were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. More so, projections indicate that employment for adults 55-plus will more than double in the 30-year span of 1994-2024, a disproportionate boost compared to the increase in demographic population. Among people 75 and older, the labor force is expected to grow by 96.5% over the next decade.
There are several factors that contribute to Americans working past what was once retirement age, according to a Congressional Budget Office Report in 2019.
These include improvements in overall health, further education, and a higher demand for white-collar jobs. Another major factor is changes in Social Security.
Many older Americans are delaying retirement until they qualify for Medicare at 65.
What value do mature workers bring to businesses?
Last fall, the Columbia Public Health Commission published findings showing that older workers are skilled and experienced, stay in jobs longer, take fewer days off, have a strong work ethic, provide excellent customer service, play a critical role in training, and prove that the best teams are multigenerational. Despite misconceptions, the commission found that older adults retain a business’ knowledge and can overcome the technology gap. And, perhaps what’s best for small businesses is the finding that older adults simply attract more business.
“Older workers bring strong work ethics, decades of work experience, and loyalty into the workforce,” said John Gonzalez, program director at Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on Aging. “In addition, they can play a critical role in training the next generation of workers, which will benefit any company or organization.”
What’s in it for me?
“In my opinion, older adults who are in the workforce continuously improve their cognitive and mental health, maintain physical wellness, independence and also keep an active social life,” said Carodol M. Tyler, director of administration at Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on Aging.
For many Philadelphians, continuing to work past age 55 – and even well into their 80s – has brought a variety of perks: fulfillment, needed funds, challenge and discretionary income.
“Seven years ago, I made a career change at 55 from the heating and air conditioning business to the tech industry,” said Earl Frank, a Center City resident. “I could see that my job of 35 years was getting to be too much but I needed the income. So, I took online classes and a course at the community center. I’m now a computer support specialist. The job pays well and keeps me sharp. Plus, I still get to work with people one-on-one but now from my desk.”
After a long career as a paralegal, Carol White became a full-time nanny. “We can be outside in the yard, read in the kitchen, and play games at the park,” said White, a 58-year-old suburban Philadelphia resident. “I love being out of the office and with the kids, who keep me young. The money I make allows me to travel during my down-time!”
Who is working longest?
American workers in their 60s and early 70s are typically professionals whose jobs require advanced education and/or training and provide job security. Business executives, lawyers, doctors and tenured professors typically outwork – in terms of years – less educated and less skilled older adults, according to research at UC Berkeley Labor Center.
Unfortunately for those with little savings and the most need, finding – and keeping – work later in life can be a challenge.
Are there programs to help older Philadelphians secure employment?
Yes! Philadelphia Corporation for Aging funds employment services for mature job seekers. JEVS Career Solutions for 55+ at CareerLink is available, at no cost, to all regardless of income status. Services include career counseling and placement assistance; access to workshops on understanding transferable skills, computer and internet use, and resume and interview preparation; referrals to training programs, social services, and job fairs; and access to computer labs and on-line job leads. Call the PCA Helpline at 215- 765-9040 for additional information.
The Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), a 40-year-old federal program – is facilitated through the Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on Aging. Eligible participants must be unemployed, 55 or older, and meet income requirements of no more than 125% of the federal poverty guidelines. Participants are provided employment counseling and job search training with the goal of assisting the transition into unsubsidized employment that leads to self-sufficiency. Participants in the SCSEP are reimbursed at the federal or state minimum hourly wage, whichever is greater, for approximately 20 hours per week during their job training. Call 215-686-8450 to make an appointment for services.
“These employment services offer the opportunity for older adults to develop new skills and enhance skills that were formerly utilized, as well as provide a sense of accountability with staff to assist and support in their preparation for
future employment,” said Wanda Mitchell, PCA’s director of community engagement. “More so, the services provide an opportunity to network with others who are looking for guidance and direction in advancing their career, which can be really valuable.”
Kathleen Harte Simone is a Philadelphia-based journalist.