Retirees want to get back to work — but they’re worried about it

While more than three in 10 US retirees say they would be motivated to rejoin the workforce if inflation continued to eat away at their savings, 43% of retirees see their age as a barrier to finding a new job.

According to research by the American Personnel Association, fear of age is a barrier to retirees considering retirement. Overall, 14% of current retirees said they are open or actively looking for work.

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“Age has always been a problem and it’s not going away. Even though we have laws to protect against it, human beings have not changed. There are misconceptions about older workers,” said Richard Wahlquist, president and CEO of the American Staffing Association, an industry trade group.

According to 2021 data from AARP, 78% of older workers claimed to have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. That’s the highest level since 2003, when AARP began tracking the data.

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The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) makes it illegal to discriminate against workers age 40 and older. However, a 2009 US Supreme Court ruling made it harder for older workers who have experienced age discrimination to prevail in court. In fact, the court said plaintiffs must have a higher burden of proof for age discrimination than for other types of discrimination

“It is disappointing that older workers see age as a potential barrier. People occupy and don’t know how to apply. The main reason is the fear of age. And the myths are that older workers cost more, can’t solve problems, or can’t learn new things, or aren’t as tech-savvy. These, however, are myths,” Wahlquist said.

Some work flexibility can help retirees. More than four in 10 retirees would look for a job if they could have a flexible work schedule, and 35% would if they could work remotely full-time.

“He’s a mature contributor and they’re amazing. Companies are looking for reliable, hard-working people and mature contributors bring a wealth of knowledge, a wealth of work and life experience and are reliable,” said Holly Lancaster, director of recruitment for KMA Human Resources. “Companies need to change their mindset just like the mature contributor. You come back with all that knowledge, and companies need that.”

As much as possible, Lancaster suggests that older job seekers edit their LinkedIn profile to their advantage and work with a staffing agency or recruiter if necessary. To pass AI resume reviews, maybe highlight the last 15 years of work experience instead of 40 years of work, and don’t feel compelled to put graduation dates on a resume, Lancaster said.

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“Some companies are afraid to hire older workers because they want to grow their business and want someone to stay for a long time. But people don’t stay in the same job for 10 or 15 years anymore. They just don’t. So why not hire a mature partner who wants to stay for five or three years?” said Lancaster.

Also, advocate for yourself when it comes to salary. Wages for seniors often suffer, said Saïd Eastman, CEO of JobsInTheUS.com, an online job site.

“No one wants to pay pensioners what they deserve. Business is as cheap as cheap can be,” Eastman said. “People are retiring early and they have great skills to offer. Hire them and pay them what they’re worth.”

Eastman cited outdoor retailer LLBean and grocery chain Market Basket among employers that have particularly positive practices for hiring older workers. More than 1,000 other employers have signed the AARP pledge to promote equal opportunity for all workers, regardless of age.

In addition to inflation, the role of Social Security insurance was also a focus for many retirees, with 25% saying they would be motivated to rejoin the workforce if Social Security no longer covered their expenses. A total of 39% of retirees reported Social Security as their primary source of income, while 33% reported retirement plans such as 401(k) accounts and pensions.

The issue of retirees weighing job searches comes at a time when there are nearly two jobs for every unemployed person in the U.S., according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that businesses are still looking for workers despite the weakening economy and increased inflation.

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“The economy is cyclical. Forget inflation, forget everything else. Hire an older person because it’s the right thing to do. Hire them when they don’t need the job. Hire them for their passion and interests and that’s how you get the best out of them and how retirees flourish the most,” Eastman said.

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