The job hunt looks different than it did 40 years ago. Kurt Lemons found that out the hard way after dusting off his resume to send to big-box retailers and car dealer- ships. “I didn’t need the money, just something to keep me busy and off my butt,” says Lemons, who is 75 and lives in Placer County. “I sent out resumes, but all I got was crickets.”
Lemons had spent 20 years in aerospace, building and launching communication satellites. He left that industry in the late 1980s to open his own small retail fly-fishing shops, which he shut down in 2007. In the past decade, he learned how to invest in the stock market, but he wanted a weekend job to stay active.
“I felt like, ‘Gee, this is weird,’” he recalls. “I hate to call it discrimination, but it just seems they ignore seniors in a lot of retail sales situations. I don’t know the reason why, but store managers you meet are younger than my children.”
Eventually, with the help of a job-readiness program for older workers, Lemons landed a position at Lowe’s. But those previous rejections reflect a common struggle for seniors seeking employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as the labor force ages in the next decade, “the average annual growth rate of the 55-years-and-older group (is) projected to be 1.8 percent, more than (three) times the rate of growth of the overall labor force.”
What this means for the economy is hard to determine, but a good place to find an answer is in the Capital Region. Compared to other major cities around the country and other parts of California, Sacramento is increasingly more attractive as a place to retire, says Sanjay Varshney, chief economist of the Sacramento Business Review. Varshney says there are 1 million more jobs nationally than people available for those jobs. As a result, he says the senior population entering or staying in the workforce could help boost the shrinking labor force and fill those slots.
On the other hand, he says, seniors in the workforce can be disruptive. For example, an older worker might take a low-paying job away from a younger worker. Also, someone 25 or younger might be stuck in a middle manager position because an older executive refuses to retire.
“It is very hard to predict which trend is stronger than the other and whether the net impact is positive or negative, since no data out there demonstrates this reliably,” says Varshney, who also is a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Private Bank and member of Comstock’s Editorial Advisory Board.
A 2015 report by the Public Policy Institute of California found that by 2030, when the youngest baby boomers hit retirement age, about a million will need assistance caring for themselves and more than 100,000 will need to be in a nursing home. The state’s senior population will be more racially and ethnically diverse, which will affect support services, but not necessarily the economy, says Hans Johnson, Public Policy Institute of California’s center director and senior fellow, who coauthored the report. Those who work past the traditional age of retirement, he says, tend to fall in the 65-69 age range, but rarely much older due to health conditions.
“Social Security kicks in completely before then, people’s retirement incomes by then have been established,” Johnson says. “Once they start hitting older ages, they simply don’t have the health.”
“I believe by getting seniors ready to interview and be in the workforce, we also have to change the mindset of employers. we need to show them that just because you have gray hair or wrinkles on your face, there’s still a lot going on in that body that that you can contribute.” -Bobby Olwell, job readiness program coordinator, Agency on Aging Area 4
Johnson argues that young adults are the ones who need more education and training. It will be these highly skilled workers in technical fields that will succeed in tomorrow’s market, he says, not necessarily senior workers, who typically have a window of 5-10 working years after age 65.
“The big picture is that, yes, more seniors do contribute to the economy,” John- son says, “but it’s not a long-term solution for labor market needs.”
But for many, regardless of health conditions, leaving the workforce is not an option. “One-third of senior households has no money left over each month or is in debt after meeting essential expenses,” according to research by the Institute on Assets and Social Policy. These seniors
might have reached 65 with a smaller nest egg or have children, grandchildren or others depending on them, which forces them into “encore careers,” says Will Tift, assistant director of the Agency on Aging Area 4, a nonprofit that covers seven counties including Sacramento, whose mission is to support older adults to lead independent and healthy lives.
“It’s expensive to be retired,” Tift says. “Housing costs, medical costs — being on a fixed income means you’re financially insecure. Even if you’re in that higher income bracket, your costs are going to increase faster than increases and earnings on whatever revenue streams you have.”
Lemons and his wife had earned enough to live comfortably, but he wasn’t successful in finding a job until he went through Agency on Aging Area 4’s Mature Edge Job Readiness Program. The program takes place one day a week for five consecutive weeks, equipping seniors with the tools to find a job. Participants share who they are, what they have to offer, go through processes like how to write a letter of intent and a resume, and how to be interviewed by a 20-year-old, for example. It was a humbling experience for Lemons, who was told to modify his resume.
“They said, ‘First of all, you take all the dates off. You graduated. Period. No dates. And do not get fancy and put a picture on your resume,’” he recalls being told. “I was very naive about the whole thing.”
In cases where employers let age influence hiring decisions, these tweaks and others (changing an email address from AOL or Hotmail to Gmail, for instance) may help seniors avoid being ruled out immediately, says Bobby Olwell, the job readiness program coordinator. The program covers all aspects of obtaining a job, she says, including how to communicate with different generations, which may be influenced by various technologies.
But Olwell also emphasizes the importance of blending the generations. Young- er generations can teach older generations how to navigate in the digital age, and older workers can serve as mentors with life experience good for problem-solving. This is what helps a workforce thrive, Olwell says, adding that a workforce diverse in age will also better reflect most customer bases.
“I believe by getting seniors ready to interview and be in the workforce, we also have to change the mindset of employers,” Olwell says. “We need to show them that just because you have gray hair or wrinkles on your face, there’s still a lot going on in that body that you can contribute.”