Companies court older workers in tight labor market

3/28/2018
 

The suddenly hot job market for workers over 50

· The unemployment rate for those ages 55 and over is 3.2 percent as of February 2018, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

· That's lower than the current unemployment rate of 4.1 percent for the entire U.S. population and 14.4 percent for teens.

· Many boomers facing retirement want to work because they fear they don't have enough money for retirement.

· More companies are hiring experienced senior workers in this tight labor market.

At age 61, Michele Meagher was hired as a corporate communications specialist by Tufts Health Plan. She is part of a fast-growing segment of those remaining in the workplace well into their golden years.

Michele Meagher, age 66, appreciates the way she's treated as an older worker by her employer, Tufts Health Plan, a nonprofit health insurance organization in Watertown, Massachusetts.

A corporate communications specialist, she was hired when she was 61. She's able to telecommute three days a week. She participates in a weekly "Fit Over 60" exercise class at the office. Her employer has allowed her to take classes to learn new skills. Meagher said that when she previously worked at a high-tech public relations firm, she was one of the oldest workers. But at Tufts "I see me everywhere. I'm not a minority," she said.

Indeed, Meagher is part of a fast-growing segment of those remaining in the workplace well into their golden years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for those ages 55 and over is just 3.2 percent as of February 2018. That's lower than the current unemployment rate of 4.1 percent for the entire U.S. population and a steep 14.4 percent for teens. Now, as the job market lurches back to life while the demographic of aging workers grows, companies in all types of industries — from banking and health care to insurance — are wooing the silver set with a variety of programs.

Two decades ago less than a third of people ages 55 and over were employed or looking for work. Today the share is 40 percent, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, up 10 percent from 1990. "There are a lot of those ages 55 to 70, and each of them is more likely to work now than in previous generations," said Matt Rutledge, a research economist for The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

He says that many boomers — facing longer live expectancies — feel they don't have enough savings to retire at age 65. That's in part due to the dwindling number of companies providing defined benefits; lack of pensions have caused many to hang in longer, said Amanda Sonnega, an associate research scientist with the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study. Rutledge says boomers also are better educated and these types of workers tend to stay in the workforce longer because they usually enjoy their jobs.

In a tight labor market, creating a climate attractive to older workers is essential, says Lydia Greene, chief human resources officer for Tufts Health Plan. The company's 401(k) program includes a supplemental match of 3 percent each year on top of the standard 4 percent match for employees contributing 6 percent or more of their income. Individuals ages 50 and over make up 34 percent of the company's workforce. They're hired at all levels, from physicians to clinical-care managers and administrative assistants. "They bring so much experience to the table," Greene said. "They're very stable and very reliable and help us develop and mentor our younger workers."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that those ages 65 and over will experience the fastest rates of labor force growth by 2024.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that those ages 65 and over will experience the fastest rates of labor force growth by 2024.

Goldman Sachs' Returnship program allows the company access to a new type of talent pool: mature workers, said spokeswoman Leslie Shribman. It provides a 10-week training and mentoring program for those who have taken a career break of more than two years, equipping employees with skills to reenter the workplace. Of the 350 people who have completed the program, roughly half have returned to work at Goldman.

 
 
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