The Journey: Long-term unemployment hits older workers hard, but some rise above it
Workers expect to keep working past traditional retirement age, and continue working in some capacity even after they retire from their main careers, according to a new study.
More than half (53 percent) said they expect to work past age 65 or to not retire at all, and 56 percent report they will work after retirement, according to the annual survey out this month from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Nearly half envision a phased retirement, in part involving work that is less demanding or that brings greater personal satisfaction. More than a quarter envision doing volunteer work.
For all those work-minded dreams, however, the cold reality is that many older workers are already jobless.
“The long-term unemployment rate this fall for job seekers 55 and older was 35 percent, compared to 24 percent for those 16 to 54,” said Maria Heidkamp, director of the New Start Career Network at Rutgers University, which offers programs to help workers polish job-hunting skills. Long-term jobless workers, defined as those out of work longer than six months, are still facing a tough environment, she said. “Our job seekers aren’t looking for part-time work, they’re figuring out how to keep paying the mortgage and replenish their depleted savings accounts.”
In a perfect world, of course, they could pay the bills and find work they find fulfilling or that addresses an important social need.
Think that’s unrealistic? Consider these dreamers, who have experienced their share of financial setbacks but went on to be winners of the Purpose Prize, an AARP program that awards $50,000 to people age 50-plus who create solutions to social problems:
Mike Weaver, 53, worked in community development, then pivoted in his early 40s to become a professor of public health and now is hoping to expand his Atlanta-based group, Weaver and Concerned Citizens of Aiken/Atlanta Now, to become a national charitable organization.
Weaver organizes intergenerational teams of volunteers to go into communities in need and provide cleanup services after natural disasters, plant community gardens and perform other tasks. He solicits donors to provide transportation for the volunteers, and volunteers in turn pay for their other expenses. Expanding the group to be a national charitable organization would provide Weaver’s next career pivot, he said, and he’s currently pitching a sponsor on developing the organization. If the idea fails, he’ll fall back on public health consulting.
“I’m not retired, but I’m not working for pay right now and with three kids, that $50,000 went pretty fast,” he said. “Doing this kind of work, you have to understand there are going to be bumps along the way.”
After retiring from a long career as a senior executive with consumer products companies, James Farrin, 81, lost more than half his retirement savings – his entire inheritance from his father – on an entrepreneurial venture.
But second chances would prove to be a lasting theme in Farrin’s life. He made all the money back on another venture, and later couldn’t resist when he was invited to co-found and become executive director of the Petey Greene Program, an organization that provides tutors for prison inmates. The program’s goal is all about creating second chances, by reducing recidivism and other societal costs of incarceration through helping inmates educate themselves for future jobs.
The non-profit gig was a way to give back that has improved Farrin’s retirement dramatically by providing him a sense of purpose and gratitude, he says.
“My father always taught me to never, ever give up,” Farrin said. “When I lost his inheritance, people came up to me asking what I thought my father (by then deceased) would say if he knew about it. I told them he would have said, ‘You gave it a great try and I’m proud of you.’”