In the 80s, it was MBAs. In the 90s, it was entrepreneurial dot-commers. In this decade, the hottest trend to watch in employment is older workers: Hiring them, keeping them and bringing them back from retirement. Why? A big part of it boils down to two words: Baby Boomers.
When a recruiter called Yda Pack about a job last fall, she tried to not get her hopes up. The 59-year old healthcare compliance manager says she'd had promising job leads fall through once interviewers got wind of her age.
“You would be talking to them on the phone, they would be very excited about your qualifications and your resume,” said Pack, now working at healthcare provider Baptist Health in South Florida. “But then when you got there and they actually saw you, it was sort of an immediate turnoff.
No one batted an eye about Yda's age at Baptist Health South Florida, named one of the country's top employers for older workers by AARP. The group says that some businesses, particularly in healthcare and retail, are increasingly focusing on hiring and retaining older workers as the nation's 78 million baby boomers age.
“By virtue of their sheer numbers, absolutely, employers have no choice but to really look at this ... as a continuing pool of resources that they might need in the future,” said Deborah Russell, manager of AARP’s Economic Security/Work section.
AARP has been active in promoting employment of older workers. And workers aged 55 and over have been gaining a bigger slice of the employment pie since the 1990s. Their share of the work force increased 2.4 percent, more than twice as fast as their rise as a percentage of the population.
Part of the reason is that businesses like Baptist Health see a cost-benefit to having older workers.
“If you think of the costs of an employment, turnover is a big cost,” said Carl Gustafson, head of human resources at Baptist Health South Florida. “And we find that although our normal turnover for all our employees is 9 percent, that for our senior employees, age 50 and over, it's only 6 percent.”
In the last year, a slow job market has seen employment among prime age workers — aged 20 to 54 — remain flat. But employment among over-55 workers jumped 5 percent — right in line with Bureau of Labor Statistics projections.
Over the next deacde, BLS forecasts show the ranks of workers over-55 growing at an annual rate of four percent. That’s four times faster than the labor force as a whole.
Many older workers have no choice but to stay on the job.
“Retirement as we have known in the past couple of generations is gone,” said employment consultant Roger Herman. “They need the money. Many people have not put away enough for retirement. The stock market dip over the past several years has certainly affected them.
Many, like Yda Pack, plan to keep working because they want to.
“My mom worked until she was 78 years old,” she said. “I feel that I have a long way to go. And I have no plans to retire.”
With the prospect of shortfalls in funding for Social Security and the potential for a real labor shortage when the economy expands, employment forecasters say the country can't afford to lose older workers in the years ahead.