Image: Workers in the senior section
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A new poll shows that many older workers say age may be an asset at work, or no issue at all.
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updated 4/26/2011 11:51:37 AM ET 2011-04-26T15:51:37

Feel like the office geezer? Age may be an asset at work, or no issue at all, according to an AP-LifeGoesStrong.com poll.

Nearly half of those born between 1946 and 1964 now work for a younger boss, and most report that they are older than most colleagues. But 61 percent of the baby boomers surveyed said their age is not an issue at work, while 25 percent called it an asset.

Only 14 percent classified getting older as a workplace liability.

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In fact, most of those who have reached age 50 noted that co-workers seek their counsel more now than when they were younger. And a third said their employer treats them with greater respect.

"You need to find something you love doing and in a field that you're comfortable in," said Cynthia Forwerck, 54, the director of a Charlotte, N.C., church preschool for the past 18 years. She said her age helps when it comes to applying day-to-day experience with young children. But Forwerck still must work at balancing nearly two decades of first-hand knowledge with learning new trends in education.

About two-thirds of poll respondents said they were able to stay abreast of developments in their field and keep up with technology.

"You have to be somewhat creative and adaptive over many years," Forwerck said.

Work-related struggles
A small but significant group of boomers report work-related struggles that they attribute to their age. Those who earn less or have fewer savings were least likely to report satisfaction at work. About 1 in 4 boomers still working say they'll never retire, and about the same fraction say they have saved no money for retirement.

And some are still climbing their own learning curves: One in 5 boomers have been in their current field for less than a decade, the poll found.

The first post-World War II baby boomers reach 65 this year. But two-thirds say they'll work at least part-time past retirement age for financial reasons, either because they'll need to or because they'll want extra spending money. Another 29 percent said they'll keep working just to stay busy.

It's an important snapshot of the nature of the nation's economic rebound at a time when the jobless rate remains persistently high. Workers from the wave of 77 million people born during the post-World War II boom are sweeping toward retirement age and beyond. Even as the economy begins to grow, the swollen workforce at the older end of the spectrum could mean fewer jobs for younger workers and those who became unemployed during the recession.

A Congressional Budget Office report released March 22 found that while boomers are expected to begin leaving the workforce over the next decade, they may also be retiring later in life than previous generations. And that could "substantially dampen growth in the labor force" through 2021, the nonpartisan CBO reported.

It's not a new trend — in fact, labor force participation rates for workers aged 60 to 69 have been rising through the past decade, CBO said. The reasons are many: Women, who tend to live longer than men, have exhibited greater attachment to the workforce than their earlier cohorts. This group's overall health is better. And a shift toward fewer jobs requiring physical strength could be a factor, CBO said.

Institutional changes in pension plans, health insurance and Social Security also give older workers more reason to keep their jobs longer, CBO said.

The shift in private pension plans toward defined-contribution arrangements, which depend on the total assets accrued by workers, gives added reason to keep working and keep earning. And employer-provided health insurance for retired workers is becoming less common, giving older workers more reason to keep their jobs until at least age 65, when Medicare kicks in.

Changes in Social Security, too, provide incentive to work for more years, the CBO reported. The gradual increase in the full retirement age from 65 to 66, which applies to the oldest boomers, and to 67, which will apply to the youngest, effectively reduces benefits associated with early retirement and may give older workers reason to stay on the job.

Age discrimination
On the question of age discrimination, 82 percent said they have never personally experienced it in the workplace; 18 percent said they had. But that number rose to 24 percent for unmarried women and to 29 percent among boomers reporting job dissatisfaction.

The most oft-cited form of age discrimination was being passed over for a raise, promotion, certain assignments or a chance to get ahead. That was reported by 15 percent of workers 50 and older, although those in lower-income households — or those not currently employed — reported more instances.

David J. Miller, a 55-year-old machinist in Parkton, Md., says he is "doing a job nobody wants" for a new company after he tried to leave management at his old employer and it subsequently moved its headquarters away.

It shouldn't be too hard to find a job with 30 years of experience, Miller thought.

"But every time I had an interview, it was I'm 'way overqualified' even though I was willing to start at the bottom," Miller said in an interview. "I know what that means: 'You're too old.'"

About a fifth of boomers in all said they were dissatisfied with their jobs, and about 3 in 10 said they were dissatisfied with opportunities for advancement and with levels of on-the-job stress.

But the majority, 71 percent, reported being satisfied with their job. And three quarters said they were satisfied with their relationships with co-workers.

The AP-LifeGoesStrong.com poll was conducted from March 4-13 by Knowledge Networks of Menlo Park, Calif., and involved online interviews with 1,160 baby boomers. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Knowledge Networks used traditional telephone and mail sampling methods to randomly recruit respondents. People selected who had no Internet access were given it for free.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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