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Older Workers Return to the Workforce

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

My dad is 77 years old and was retired prior to the pandemic. He still wants to contribute to society in a meaningful way - not only as a volunteer but to earn extra residual income for the very active and social activities that my parents still enjoy.

Apart from volunteering at least 6 hours a week, he wants gainful employment at a minimum of 10 hours a week. Last year, he found a job with the US courts and signed up to become an interpreter, which unfortunately does not add up to his 10 hour weekly goal. If it were left to him, he would go back to his old job as a student counselor at Job Corps and work 10 hours.

He does not want the headache of dealing with new students with higher levels of testosterones and hormones but would love to mentor students who are dedicated and focused. He is currently taking an online training course and has leads on different employment opportunities he hopes to explore. This is not only his story but is familiar among retirees in their 60s or 70s who are trying to find work and remain active and employed.

There are several reasons older adults want to continue working. Inflation and the rising cost of goods and services are at the core. How can they retire if they can’t afford living expenses? The rising cost of household goods and services, utilities, rent/mortgages, and gas makes it difficult to remain unemployed. Travel budgets are practically non-existent and unless the children or other family members are willing to foot the tab, they cannot travel and explore new places.

In the case of my parents who are still socially active at church, in the community, and at family gatherings it would only make sense to find something to keep them physically and mentally occupied. Daily routines after breakfast always included visits to places outside the home - for medical, entertainment, or family activities. With the all-time high price of gas and inflation, it only made sense that my dad would want to work. He is in excellent shape and is physically fit, energetic, and mentally capable of handling a 10 hour work load. He has worked the last 50+ years and knows he can still make a difference, and get paid for his knowledge and skills. The idea of a full time job is not appealing because at this point the extra money is used to buy what they want.

The idea of the “golden years'' at retirement is far-fetched for the majority of the aging population. More often older Americans and those among Black, Indeginous, and People of Color (BIPOC) populations, grandparents are helping their own families. In some cases they are responsible for the welfare of their grandchildren and children and are now invested - emotionally, physically, and financially. How can they afford to live off meager savings and social security? Retiring is no longer an option and sometimes having to work 35 hours a week has become the norm for those who need to survive.

Another reason to remain employed is longevity. Technology and modern medicine has made it possible for people to live longer. The healthy aging initiative for older Americans focuses on regular exercise, healthy nutrition, and preventive health for better health outcomes. For older Americans working is a way to stay healthy. It keeps their minds alert, their bodies physically active and they are able to seek out preventive measures and pick up healthy habits to avoid chronic diseases or illnesses. This will allow them to live into their 80s, 90s, and 100s - which may be unheard of for a lot of families. If working is a way to remain alive and healthy then by all means they will continue to seek work.

How do we accommodate the aging workforce over the next couple of decades?

By 2030, at least 9.5% or 1 in 3 of those 65 years and older will make up the labor workforce *(Bureau Labor or Statistics, BLS, 2022). Steps have been taken across different industries to accommodate the great exodus of older workers or the “baby boomer” population. According to Hirsch (2017) in an article about “Overcoming the Aging Workforce Issues”, having reduced hours for aging workers, building a mentoring culture, investing in career development to retain good workers, and cultivating millennials who have a different set of values and expectations for work were among her suggestions.

Offering reduced hours to older workers would reduce the nightmare hiring executives face with the mass exodus of baby boomers. Not only is this cohort of retirees larger than the millennial generation, but they leave a huge gap in the workforce, not only physically but mentally with the “draining of the skills and knowledge” when older workers leave.

Building a mentoring culture and pairing young workers with experienced mentors and coaches is an excellent way to transfer some of the knowledge and expertise from older workers. Career development that focuses on employee “upward mobility” within an organization would help retain “good workers,” both young and old. Millennials are more concerned about “work/life balance,” and companies that are invested in flexible work schedules and developing professional programs around executive mentoring, continuing education, and training are key to keeping workers.

Industry executives' ability to accommodate retirees with reduced hours and mentoring or coaching programs will not only fill the gap in the labor shortages but allow older adults to create meaningful engagements with Millenials who may find this appealing as they aspire to balance life and work.

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