Older Workers Aim to Stay on the Job: Employers Adjust to Baby Boomers

Article excerpt

The notion of living a life of leisure after a career of hard work has been a driving force for American workers for decades. But retirement is not what it used to be.

America's work force is getting older, a trend that has both employees and employers rethinking old notions of retirement, said Andrea Wooten, chief executive officer of Green Thumb, a D.C.-based career-counseling organization for seniors.

More older people want to keep working. And human-resources professionals are gradually realizing that if they want to keep fully staffed, they must dispel lingering stereotypes about older workers.

"The concept of retiring and hitting the golf course is no longer attractive to a lot of people," Ms. Wooten said. "Most people between 55 and 65 are not thinking about stopping work, either because they can't afford to or just don't want to."

Statistics show that in the past 20 years most Americans have opted for retirement when they reach their 60s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But work-force experts say that trend is shifting. In the next few years more Americans will keep working well beyond age 60 as the country's 78 million "baby boomers," whose ages now span 35 to 53, mature.

The median age of workers in 1998 was 38.1, up from 35.4 in 1978, according to the bureau.

Since 1950, the number of workers over the age of 45 has more than doubled, from 21 million to more than 44 million, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. The number of workers over 45 is expected to pass 58 million by 2006 and account for nearly 40 percent of the U.S. work force.

While historically Americans have viewed their 60s as a time for retirement, most baby boomers expect to be working into those years, according to a 1998 AARP study.

About 80 percent said they expect to work after retirement, while one-fourth expect to work at least part time for needed income. About one-third said they would continue working at least part time for the interest and enjoyment of working.

Ms. Wooten said that with the unemployment rate at a 30-year low, the job prospects for older workers are better than ever. As companies clamor to find available workers, more are looking to people over age 55 to help fill the void.

D.C. resident Yvonne Lacy-Baskerville, 57, who retired from her government job last year with no intention of stopping work, is one example.

"I just wasn't ready to go home, crawl up by the fire and stroke my beagle," she said with a laugh.

After 15 years working for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and then 15 more working for the D.C. Department of Human Services, she was burned out from government work, but eager to try something new. She did some part-time and consulting work, then heard about a job fair for seniors sponsored by the Jewish Council for the Aging.

"My daughter and I printed out 50 resumes and just went from booth to booth talking to people," she said.

Two weeks later she landed a job at the National Center and Caucus of Black Aged where she helps other older people find jobs.

One of the receptionists she works with is Flossie V. Rhodes, 70, who began working at the center 10 years ago after a career in social work. She found that, at 60 years old, she did not want to quit working and has enjoyed her new job.

"I was thinking I might go on for a couple more years," Mrs. Rhodes said.

Work-force experts and many in the job hunt say older job applicants face unseen barriers to employment in the form of stereotyping.

"The truth is some employers still seem to think that older people cannot learn as quickly, that they are sick more often and that they cannot adapt to change," said Ms. Wooten.

"We are starting to see these stereotypes being broken down by positive examples of older people who are working. …