seniors with a baby

Earlier this year the Metropolitan Nashville Public School District honored their longest serving substitute teacher who had been stepping into classrooms and inspiring students for going on 30+ years. Who was he? A 91-year-old WWII veteran who discovered a love for teaching when he reached retirement age in his 60s. Frank Michanowicz, or Mr. Frank, as he is known, was passionate about education and helping kids, and it continues to show through his work as a substitute teacher.

While this moving story depicts the incredible impact a senior citizen can have as a contributing member of the workforce, it seems to be an outlier as stigma around hiring older adults later in life continues to pervade the job market. What exactly is that stigma challenging? Well for one, more seniors than ever are looking for jobs post-retirement age.

Rise in Number of Employed Seniors

A 2016 Pew Research report looking at federal employment data revealed a significant trend in senior employment. Not only are more older adults continuing to work past retirement age, but they’re physically working more hours than before as well. Between May 2000 and May 2016, the percentage of American adults over 65 who held full or part-time employment jumped from 12.8% to 18.8%!

The trend is consistent across senior age brackets, from 65 to 69-year-olds to 70 to 74-year-olds and finally those 75 and older. Part-time job rates fell for older adults from 46.1% to 36.1% in that same May 2000 - 2016 timeframe; married with higher overall rates of employment, this indicates that seniors are seeking full-time employment (35+ hours a week) more than ever before.

The New York Times detailed an analysis of this report in an August 2016 article, Of Retirement Age, But Remaining in the Workforce, acknowledging the decades-long trend of early retirement that seemed to fall off in the 1980s. Since then, senior employment has steadily grown, and even the Great Recession of this century couldn’t stave it off. When the economy dipped following the housing market crisis, it was younger workers who took the largest hit, not older workers. The article states that throughout the year, seniors are more likely to have a job than teenagers.

Why are more seniors seeking employment?
Myriad factors seem to combine into a few solid theories:

  • Finances - Research out of The National Institute on Retirement Security found that of all working households nearing retirement, the median retirement account balance is only $12,000, making the average working household less able to be able to afford to retire.
  • Benefits - The longer a senior works and waits to claim their social security, the higher their monthly check will be. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College shares that while over a third of seniors claim benefits as soon as they’re able, a growing number are waiting until their mid to late-60s.
  • Pension shifts - Whereas fixed pensions used to max out on the benefits a worker could earn over their career, less and less of these types of pensions mean less incentive to retire ‘on time’.
  • Longevity - Longer lifespans make for longer careers, and advancements in medicine and technology are keeping older adults healthier and living longer than before.

What stigma surrounds hiring seniors?

Research suggests that older adults are more likely to be in managerial positions that require a higher degree of schooling, don’t involve physical labor, and pay out higher salaries. Still, stigmas surround hiring seniors, including:

  • Health reasons - employers are worried about the reliability of older workers with potential for developing age-related health issues and mobility needs
  • Technology - The incorporation of automation and digital solutions in the job marketplace may lead hiring managers to think seniors are less tech-savvy and a more unattractive choice when it comes to hiring
  • Social misconceptions - the thought that hiring older workers prevents younger workers from getting jobs has permeated many industries
  • Trainability - the fallacy in believing that older workers are risk-averse, less welcome to training and change, and will be less cooperative than junior employees

Why older adults make great hires

Those stigmas based on ageism, prejudice, and misconception are at the center of a hot debate around why older adults make great employees, especially as more and more of them seek full-time employment. In addition to bringing wisdom and experience, senior employees are notorious for showing up on time, conveying confidence and reliability in their performance, exhibiting loyalty, and presenting less challenges with work/life balance as their kids are already adults.

Older workers additionally provide a unique skill-set to a job based on experience and their ability to serve as both employee and leader/mentor/teacher to younger workers. For those older adults seeking employment post-retirement even when they have a nest egg to live off of, it’s clear their passion and drive for the job is what motivates them to work, not just the pay.