Barriers, Solutions for Older Workers

Aging Today, January/February 2009 | Go to article overview

Barriers, Solutions for Older Workers


"No Letup in Jobs Gloom," a recent headline from the South Florida SunSentinel, is typical in the news these days, and researchers at the University of Miami stress that such news heads serve as a reminder "of the importance of maintaining a robust and growing economy to meet employment targets in general, and increasing employment among older workers in particular."

That's the conclusion of the recent report titled "Understanding an Aging Workforce: A Review of Barriers and Solutions," which details a study Mario Hernandez and colleagues conducted for the nonprofit Experience Works in Washington, D.C. The report states, "For the many older people who desire to remain engaged and active, we need to extend their working lives while safeguarding their health, safety and wellness."

MYTH BUSTING

The authors continue, "The absence of job opportunities imposes a heavy burden on the already difficult problem of retaining older workers, or moving them back into the job market if they are retired, or getting them reemployed in the event they are underemployed and looking for work."

This valuable review of international research on older workers reveals mythbusting studies on the truths behind common misconceptions about older workers. "Part of what keeps older adults out of the workforce are the negative views that most employers have of older workers," says the study.

For example, the Australian Business, Work and Aging Initiative poked holes in nine myths that hold older workers back. This 2003 report found research disproving, for example, that older workers are less productive, more expensive, less able to learn new skills and more vulnerable to failing health than younger workers.

Among the findings in a 1999 Canadian government study were that the productivity of older workers remains constant, most displaced older workers want to resume full-time work, and programs that successfully maintain or reemploy older workers have clearly defined goals pertaining to older workers and use special activities to meet those goals.

Although age discrimination can be hard to prove, the Experience Works research review cites a disturbing 2005 study by Joanna N. Lahey of the Center for Retirement Research (CRR). For the issue brief titled "Do Older Workers Face Age Discrimination?" Lahey sent out job applications to employers in Boston and St. Petersburg indicating applicants of different ages, from 35 to 62. She found that younger adults had a 40% greater chance of being contacted than applicants age 50 or older.

"This study suggests that simply encouraging or motivating older workers to seek employment will not be enough to actually get them hired," wrote Hernandez and his coauthors.

Not all of the news was negative, though. CRR director Alicia Munnell and coauthors surveyed 400 U. …

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