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Jeff Rubin: Employing older workers just makes good business sense

The last full week of September is National Employ Older Workers Week, a time set aside by the U.S. Department of Labor to recognize the vital role of older workers in the workforce. The aim is to increase awareness of this labor segment and develop innovative strategies to tap it.

This campaign of awareness comes at a time, when according to a recent New York Times editorial, “Older people are likely to be seen as a burden and a drain on resources, rather than as a resource in themselves.”

This apparent contradiction coincides with a shift in demographics causing havoc in the work place, and creating problems that demand a new way of thinking on the part of employer and employee alike.

According to a (2014) Transamerica Center for Retirement study, two-thirds of today’s baby boomers plan to work past age 65, or do not plan to retire at all. Yet that decision may be harder and harder to realize when coupled with the realities of the last few years’ recessionary economy and the subsequent spike of “ageism” in the workplace.

In a recent interview with CNN, U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez cited as much, in sharing that many long-term unemployed people he had spoken with “expressed the strong belief that their age has been a barrier to re-employment.”

For older workers and others who’ve experienced job loss, their situation may be compounded even further when viewed against the backdrop of a 2014 Employee Benefit Research Institute report on the preparedness of older workers for retirement. The study reveals rather alarmingly that nearly 60 percent of workers ages 55 and older had saved less than $100,000 for their retirement years, and another 24 percent have saved less than $1,000.

In short, for an increasing number of traditional retirement age workers today, the greatest fear they face may be running out of money; the consequences of which will ultimately be felt by all of us.

While many cite the need to continue working, there is also a growing number of people approaching 65 who, for reasons other than financial, are simply not ready to retire. They choose instead, to remain active either full time, part time or in other productive ways.

The irony in all this is the convergence of these issues at a time when business, industry, and communities are being forced to re-think the ways in which they perceive age, work, consumers, and their economy. It is emerging too, at a time when, according to The National Older Worker Career Center (NOWCC) www.nowcc.org “many employers, public and private sector alike, are beginning to face the loss of experience as those workers who want to retire are doing so.”

To put all of this in context, consider the numbers. According to the PEW Research Center, some 10,000 people turn 65 every day, a never-before-seen surge that is expected to peak at 4.3 million annually by 2025. Include in that the 78 million boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) and elders who are living longer (85 plus is the fastest growing age group).

For some this represents an alarming concern. To others, what is happening is nothing short of revolutionary. The former refer to it as a “silver tsunami.” The latter see what is taking shape as part of a new and booming dynamic where the benefits of longevity are fueling the economy. They point to the already staggering $7.1 trillion spent annually in the U S alone by those 50 and over on products and services they presently consume to make their case.

In Kentucky alone, this “longevity economy” is already yielding dividends. According to an Oxford Economics report conducted for AARP, despite being just 35 percent of Kentucky’s population in 2013, people over 50 accounted for 45 percent of Kentucky’s Gross Domestic Product ($83 billion).

This longevity revolution is expected to create a whole range of opportunities for those investors, companies, small business owners, and budding entrepreneurs willing to embrace it.

Yet the positive implications of longevity and what it may mean for growing old has been slow to take hold both within and outside of our homes. Many civic and community leaders, like the individuals and families they serve, are more likely to see aging as something that happens to other people rather than something to embrace in themselves.

Therefore, actively preparing for transition is often an afterthought rather than a plan. This comes in spite of assertions from many in the financial and retirement fields who see older adults as people who are working longer, buying more goods, and generally propelling economic growth in their communities.

Businesses unwilling to acknowledge this inevitable reality find themselves facing a double-edged sword. Many lack the knowledge to capitalize on the economic opportunities inherent in catering to this elder clientele. Others, whose own long-time employees are ready to leave the workforce, find themselves ill-prepared to replace or retain the knowledge, the contacts, the ‘how to get that problem solved’ experience of the folks who’ve been with them for years.

To retain their talents, future-focused employers are beginning to implement a variety of workplace practices including flexible and shared work arrangements, part-time and part-year schedules, and remote and off-site access just to name a few. And why shouldn’t they?

Older workers often get high marks for leadership, stability, problem-solving skills, loyalty, and reliability. They also serve as mentors to younger workers and can relate better to a business’s growing aging customers. Hiring or retaining older workers promotes retention, increases productivity, and makes good business sense. No wonder the U.S. Department of Labor has established National Employ Older Workers Week.


Jeff Rubin is an advocate and adviser on community and aging issues, having spent over 20 years as a director and facilitator of community service programs at the local, state and national levels. An advocate for “Age-friendly” and “Livable” communities, Mr. Rubin is currently working to advance these initiatives statewide in Kentucky and invites your comments, involvement, and support. He can be reached at Jeffrubin@windstream.net.

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