“Gosh, you’re an upbeat lady!” That’s what my husband teasingly says to me from time to time, as he quotes the line from the film, Groundhog Day, that TV meteorologist Phil Connors (Bill Murray), says to news producer Rita (Andie MacDowell).
So when Teresa Ghilarducci, the director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA) at The New School in New York, who leads the research center’s Retirement Equity Lab, steps up with a new report detailing the participation by older workers in the labor force, I know I have to face the bad news and tell it to you head-on without the airbrush.
I will, of course, share some advice to help workers 50+ navigate the pandemic landscape. That’s my job, and it’s proactive. My father taught me to never say, I can’t. But to always focus on solutions by asking: how can I, or how can we?
But first, here’s what the new report revealed. Around 1.1 million older workers (ages 55 and older) left the workforce between August and January due to the pandemic recession.
Although older workers’ unemployment rate fell in January by 0.7 percentage points, the decline was propelled by unemployed workers leaving the labor force rather than finding jobs, according to the analysis.
Meantime, since October, the drop in employment for Black, Hispanic, and Asian older workers was more than double that of white older workers.
Unemployment remains significantly higher at 6.3%, up from 3.5% before the pandemic, and jumps to roughly 10% when adjusted for misclassified job statuses and recent dropouts from the workforce, according to the report.
Overall, this ramps up the number of older workers who cannot depend on income from wages and must tap alternative income sources, including retirement savings or social safety nets.
“The data make it clear that the pandemic recession is a game-changer for older workers, especially older people of color,” Ghilarducci says. “Forced out of the labor market by the pandemic, these workers might never recover. Now is the time for policies that address their specific needs and give them better choices than retiring involuntarily into lower living standards or even poverty.”
I wholeheartedly agree. To learn more about the researchers’ policy recommendations, please read the report.
This stark analysis wasn’t the only one that landed in my inbox this past week. A new Pew Research Center survey does not specifically parse out the statistics for workers 50+, but it’s troublesome.
About half of U.S. adults (49%) who are currently unemployed, furloughed or temporarily laid off and are looking for a job are pessimistic about their prospects for future employment, according to the findings.
And most say they’ve seriously considered changing fields or occupations since they’ve been unemployed. Many say they’ve experienced more emotional or mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, during the time they’ve been out of work. Some 53% say they have felt like they lost a piece of their identity.
The Center’s survey, conducted Jan. 19-24, did find that 51% are optimistic, with 15% saying they are very optimistic and 36% saying they are somewhat optimistic.
But the sunny view comes with a disheartening proviso. Among those who say they’re optimistic about finding a job, 37% say they are not too or not at all confident they will find a job that pays as much and provides the same benefits they had in their last job.
I can’t argue with that. That’s the reality many of us face regardless of the decades of experience and success we have achieved.
But I see bright shoots. I can’t help myself. This past year, I’ve talked to dozens of workers over 50 who have made some intriguing career pivots. They’ve found new remote jobs they don’t look like their old office ones, and while they may not pay as much, are challenging and rewarding. They’ve started consulting businesses, or side gigs, that have inspired them and energized them. And better yet, they’re making a difference in the world in some small way, or channeling dreams they had set aside earlier in their working lives.
So here are my six tips to boost your chances of finding a good job match, with the hope that the news will be brighter when the next batch of these reports comes around.
Seek out remote openings. Remote working is now out of the bottle and here to stay. A more hybrid model of the workplace is likely as vaccination rolls out, but there is much to value about working from home that is worth holding dear.
Here’s why: work from home can be a plus for older workers and goes a long way to fighting ageism. You’re judged on your performance and productivity more than whether you “look” older than your younger co-worker. And if you have any mobility issues, a work from home job can be huge benefit.
Focus on remote-friendly employers. During the pandemic, an increasing number of companies have embraced the benefits of remote work and are offering long-term or permanent remote jobs.
A good starting point for your research: The 100 companies to watch for remote jobs provided by FlexJobs.com. Employers who made the list include Citrix CTXS, -2.08%, Dell Technologies DELL, -0.79%, Lionbridge, Sutherland and UnitedHealth Group UNH, +0.45%. See my book, Great Pajama Jobs: our Complete Guide to Working from Home (shameless plug), for a deep dive on best job search practices and more.
Network with insiders at companies that interest you. One way to track down these possible sources of referrals or get the scoop on a company culture is via LinkedIn. For starters, the job board is solid, and you can sign up to have new job listing alerts sent to you and apply straight from the site. You can also easily search the name of an employer, and it shows the closest connection you have to someone who works there. If it’s someone who shares an alumni connection with you, even better. Fact: referred applicants are more likely to be hired than those without a champion. Employers typically hire the old-fashioned way: they trust people they know, or people they know, know.
Do some sleuthing. There are a growing number of job boards to search for remote opportunities, including Flexjobs.com and Work at Home Vintage Employers (WAHVE), a site for professionals 50+ who work from home for over 300 insurance and accounting firms.
Other popular sites to check out are Rat Race Rebellion, Sidehusl, Working Nomads, We Work Remotely, Skip The Drive, Jobspresso, Zip Recruiter, and UpWork. One of my favorites for part-time job seekers is FlexProfessionals.
The most common and top career fields offering remote work, according to FlexJobs: computer and information technology. medical and health, accounting and finance, project management. customer service, sales and marketing.
Job titles range from customer service representative to program manager to bookkeepers, CFOs, controllers, administrative assistants, virtual assistants, medical transcriptionists, remote nurses, pharmacists, radiologists, and data entry. Pay ranges from $18/hour to $40/hour or more, depending on the level of the job and the experience.
Don’t try to replicate your old job. Search on the job boards for skills you have, titles that you are seeking perhaps, and then type in a hobby or a passion of yours. I might put in horses or horseback riding, for instance. “Be a little experimental with it,” says Sara Sutton, founder and chief executive of FlexJobs.com says. “With remote work, it is really helpful if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, and it’s not just punching a clock That will keep you motivated when you are working solo.”
Focus on a few employers. Put out fewer applications for jobs at companies where you would be proud to work. (Job-hunting is a two-way street.) Write in the cover letter precisely what turns you on about the things the employer is doing. You can find these newsy items on their website press page or company culture page. This is the place to shout-out who you know who works at the firm if they are willing to back you.
I can’t stress enough that when you sincerely support an organization’s mission — whether it is a product they make, or a service they provide — it will catch a hiring manager’s attention.
This shouts future loyalty. Employers are cautious about hiring right. As a result, they’re also just as concerned about retaining employers once they’re onboard. It’s expensive to replace workers.
Finally, read this column about why COVID-19’s impact on the job market is far worse for older workers for more tips from me and two job search strategists who I follow: Hannah Morgan, also known as Career Sherpa and Susan P. Joyce, an online job search expert, and editor of Job-hunt.org.
Kerry Hannon is a leading expert and strategist on work and jobs, entrepreneurship, personal finance and retirement. She is the author of more than a dozen books, including Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home, Never Too Old To Get Rich: The Entrepreneurs Guide To Starting a Business Mid-Life, Great Jobs for Everyone 50+, and Money Confidence. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.