The silver-collar economy
More companies are hiring people 65 and older because they believe they are reliable and productive, while the seniors themselves need – and want – to work. But is the trend squeezing out young people?
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Combine that with the sheer size of the baby boom cohort, and the trend promises to alter the makeup of workplaces across the developed world over the next two decades. Already, in fact, the growing presence of older workers is one of the most notable facts of the current US job market.Skip to next paragraph
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Since January 2010, job seekers age 55 and up have accounted for 70 percent of all employment gains in the US. Viewed over the past decade, the pattern is even more stark. That older group has added some 10 million employees to its ranks, even as employment among other age groups has actually declined by more than 4 million.
Those statistics, by the way, shouldn't be interpreted to mean that older workers have found it easy in a tough economy. The reality is that only about 17 percent of seniors are employed, which is far lower than the 39 percent who say in surveys that they "need" to work in retirement, according to a report this spring by Wells Fargo.
What the statistics do show is an inexorable force. The rising share of seniors employed over the past decade, coupled with the number of boomers poised to hit retirement who want to keep working, means the number of older people in the workforce will continue to surge.
"It's staggering," says Kim Ruyle, a human resources consultant. For the next decade, he says, thousands of boomers every day will be hitting the 62 to 65 age frame that in the past has been accompanied by cake-and-speech farewells at the office.
Where are older people finding work? Just about everywhere, actually.
Across the country from Needham, Mass., amid the balmy breezes of San Diego, Scripps Health offers another case study in welcoming older workers. Scripps has been recognized many times as among the "Best Employers for Workers Over 50" – as ranked by AARP. And it's a major employer – 14,400 people in a network of local hospitals and clinics.
High demand for skilled professionals like nurses makes health care one of the key industries trying to hang onto older workers. Scripps is a leader in this trend. Its retirement rate for employees who hit 65 is half the national average.
One of those "silver collar" workers is Barbara Genzler, a registered nurse who manages the surgery department. She's 67 and has no plans to retire. With 43 years of nursing experience behind her, most of it at Scripps, Ms. Genzler says she loves the work. "That's why I'm still doing it," she says. Even though the job is physically demanding, Genzler says she doesn't tire easily and plans to work at the hospital until she's unable to physically. "I can easily see spending my 70s working here," she says. "There's a lot of longevity in our department."
In recent years, the AARP "Best Employers" list has also included manufacturing companies like John Deere, financial firms, universities, and a range of other employers. In more than a few cases, these firms report that half or more of their workers are over 50.
To some degree, older workers are found in virtually every occupation. A graying grocery bagger or orange-aproned Home Depot associate has become a common sight. But think about this: Among Americans over 65 there are 101,000 active farmers and ranchers, a similar number who drive buses or taxis, 25,000 musicians, 17,000 crossing guards, and more than 80,000 chief executives. Warren Buffett, you are not alone.
Many work as professionals, such as lawyers. But many more occupy low-paid positions, laboring as retail clerks or janitors (more than 100,000 in each of those fields, says the Urban Institute, citing US Census data).