Older workers now make up roughly a third of the workforce in the U.S., which has an impact on health care, the economy, local labor markets and workplace productivity. Nicole Maestas spoke about opportunities for older workers in today’s economy to the Wall Street Journal and in an episode of NPR’s On Point at WBUR.
Contrary to the belief that only unskilled jobs are available for seniors, Maestas says that there are strong opportunities in certain growing industries that have a shortage of skilled workers:
“These are good jobs,” says Nicole Maestas … Moreover, she adds, older workers with experience and education “are competitive for these jobs, especially with their greater work experience.”
Labor markets across the country vary greatly in strength, so Maestas explains that older individuals might need to go to where the jobs are. Baby Boomers have more education than previous generations, which makes them more competitive in today’s landscape.
Maestas noted that her research shows an increase in older workers taking a “gap year,” a large percentage of which went in a new direction professionally. Thus, there is evidence to support that seniors who retool can successfully move into new careers.
Health care costs are often raised as an issue confronting employers who want to hire older workers, since employers must offer new workers the same benefits regardless of their age. While that concern is valid—it is also the case that older workers today are much healthier than they were a generation ago.
More good news is that these job transitions or reentries don’t appear to come at a cost to young professionals. The economy is growing, noted Maestas, even if at a slower rate than in the recent past. Data across states show that young and old workers can coexist in a work environment and even improve productivity.
“It’s too simple to say there are only so many jobs—it’s the growth that’s important,” she said.
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