Studies Focus On Recession'S Toll On Older Workers

By Staff
September 30, 2009

Two recent studies paint a bleak picture of the status of the nation's older workers as a result of the economic downturn.

USA Today reports that according to a survey released this week by the AARP, those ages 45 to 64 are increasingly worried about how to make ends meet and eventually retire. About 12 percent of respondents said they or a family member have lost a job in the past year, up from 9 percent in December 2008. Twenty-seven percent-- African Americans and Hispanics in particular--said they were experiencing problems covering basic items such as food and utilities. And close to half said they are concerned that they will not be able to have enough money to retire.

"Even before the economic downturn, the 45-to-64 population was a high-anxiety age group," noted David Certner, legislative policy director at AARP. "They were supposed to be preparing for their own retirement, and they are worried about other generations, as well."

The survey also found that nearly half of the respondents have lost a significant portion of their savings in the stock market. But 30 percent have stopped contributing to a 401(k) plan or IRA, and 18 percent have prematurely withdrawn funds from their retirement savings.

Another recent study draws attention to low-income unemployed workers age 55 and older. The survey, conducted by Experience Works, a nonprofit provider of community service, training and employment opportunities for older workers, found that many senior citizens are being forced out of retirement so that they do not lose their homes.

The study found that most respondents did not intend to be looking for work at this point in their lives, but layoffs, the death of a spouse or large medical bills compelled them to return to the workforce. Nearly half of these older job seekers reported sometimes having to choose between paying rent, buying food or purchasing medication.

"These people are at the age where they understandably thought their job searching years were behind them," said Cynthia Metzler, president and CEO of Experience Works. "But here they are, many in their 60s, 70s and beyond, desperate to find work so they can keep a roof over their heads and food on the table."

About 75 percent of those surveyed said that their age makes it more difficult for them to compete for jobs with younger workers. They noted, for example, that their lack of necessary training presents a significant challenge.

"This study underscores the need to create policies that remove barriers to employment for older workers, and provide additional programs and services specifically aimed at helping older people re-enter the workforce or remain working," said Metzler.

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