Laura Gilbert: Let’s help unemployed Boomers work toward retirement they deserve

The Great Recession has taken a particularly challenging toll on workers age 50+, or more accurately, on former workers.  And by “workers” I mean everyone who depends on employment for income… maintenance workers, teachers, accountant managers, executives…everyone.   Unlike the 20-something who is struggling to start a career, the 50+ employee is struggling to finish a career.  For many, it is as though the pilot turned off the seat belt sign and asked passengers to disembark… 20 minutes from the airport.  Ouch.  Unless you have a really good parachute that is one rough landing.

It would be different if we had gambled the time away eating bonbons while waiting to hear of our good fortune from Ed McMahon.  But, we didn’t.  Many answered a call-to-action described in our grandchildrens’ history books.  The 1957 Sputnik Crisis launched the space race followed by the National Defense Education Act.   Billions of dollars poured into the U.S. educational system, with an emphasis on science, math, leadership and increased participation of talented young women in the workforce.

President John F. Kennedy challenged the next wave of baby boomers to “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.”   Emphasis on “you”… as in “you and me”.   This was a time of personal expectations and personal responsibility that we were proud to accept.  We stood up and trained to “become” something (welder, accountant, paralegal, manager); something we would be until retirement if we did our part.  For decades we showed up on time, worked long hours, learned new skills, adapted, changed, changed again and survived increasingly creative office politics.  And then it ended…20 minutes from the airport.

So, what now?  Social, philanthropic and government programs have emerged to address the employment needs of this population.  However, many programs focus on individuals who are financially ready for retirement and want to “give back” through meaningful non-profit (and frequently non-paycheck) work.  Great.  Wonderful.  The world will be a better place because of your work.  Thank you.  But that doesn’t help the unemployed 50+ individual who is not financially ready for retirement.

Retraining may be an option.  For the past year I have tracked adult educational programs, a whole slew of which are geared for the 50+ worker.  Cool, yes.   As a generation baby boomers are learners, holding more degrees than our grown children.  Thus many are willing to retrain, borrow modestly for tuition and live like students (even with our own student.)   Recent partnerships between community colleges and businesses sound like perfect opportunities for displaced adults to retrain quickly for actual paying jobs.  Yet marketing materials I reviewed from several business sponsors target the 20-somethings.  The message: enjoy the class but we’re planning to hire your niece.

Facing hundreds of resumes per open position companies do often choose younger workers; and for many legitimate reasons such as attitude and cultural fit.  Yes, we want our niece to find a job.  We simply would like an opportunity to finish our careers also.  After landing at the airport please.  Our knees no longer handle those big jumps.  My question to you is simply this: How do we build a bridge back into the workforce for the 50+ worker?  What needs to occur from both sides – the corporation with a job and the 50+ applicant – in order for 50+ workers to once again bring the best they have to offer to a company, to the economy and to society?

This post was written by Laura Gilbert and originally published on Back To School for Grownups

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Susan Maricle on 02/03/2011 - 08:52 am.

    What needs to occur from both sides – the corporation with a job and the 50+ applicant – in order for 50+ workers to once again bring the best they have to offer to a company, to the economy and to society?

    The first thing has already happened: recognizing that all boomers are not financially prepared for retirement.

    And recognizing that they’re not bad people for it.

    Excellent post, Laura.

  2. Submitted by Erik Hare on 02/03/2011 - 08:53 am.

    The most effective stimulus that we can provide this economy is to create jobs for the very young entering the workforce, among whom unemployment/underemployment is above 40%. I believe that the most effective way to do this is to create a one-time program that makes everyone over 50 eligible for Social Security and to withdraw from their IRAs:

    As stimulus programs go it is relatively cheap – and may even pay for itself in reduced unemployment dispersals.

    As we confront this Depression we have to look for the necessary Restructuring that will transform the economy and create sustainable work for the next generation. That is unlikely to happen until work passes on to the next generation of employees.

    [ before anyone criticize this as self serving – I am 45 years old ]

  3. Submitted by Dan Hoxworth on 02/03/2011 - 11:10 am.

    Great ideas, Eric. Thanks, Laura for pointing to this issue. Eric, your link is not working. Would you repost a link?

  4. Submitted by Jim Reagan on 02/03/2011 - 11:34 am.

    Erik – according to BLS.Gov teenagers are the highest group of unemployed at 25.4%. Next are 20-24 year olds at 15%, everyone after that is pretty much the same at around 6-9%.

    What you forget is that workers 50 years old are at the most expensive time of their lives, at the time that was SUPPOSED to be the highest earnings time of their lives. They have mortgages, kids in college, retirement they seriously need to save for, and no one can live on Social Security. Their house is likely under water or at least is worth no more than they paid for it even if they never AMT’d it and have lived in it a decade or more, they’ve probably lost most of their 401(k), and college costs keep going up. Once their COBRA runs out they will likely be refused health insurance for pre-conditions, so one major medical problem and they face bankruptcy.

    The young have an entire lifetime to make up for the current economy, and they have few assets to lose. 50 year olds do not have time and everything to lose.

  5. Submitted by Lyn Crosby on 02/03/2011 - 12:45 pm.

    Dan, it works if you copy and paste it into your browser; web addresses never show here as true links.

  6. Submitted by Ann Freeman on 02/04/2011 - 07:37 am.

    Excellent post! As a boomer, I’ve never known more people out of work and struggling to find work — not only in their areas of expertise, but anywhere. And I know people who have taken jobs at half their previous salary or less. People who have lost jobs within two years of their planned retirement. For many, looking for work at 50 plus has been the first time being hit directly with age discrimination and to feel first hand how our society does not value, and actively devalues, its older citizens.

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