‘The laxatives are over on aisle four, sweetie’: Seniors and jobs

Posted: October 14, 2011 in aging, Money

The Associated Press had an interesting story today on “hot jobs for seniors” that caught my attention:

The number of U.S. workers 65 or older has grown 24 percent in five years, to 6.7 million last month. And that’s with the baby-boom generation just now entering the age group. More than half of that total were employed full-time, and nearly 1.3 million were 75 or older.

Seventy-four percent of those responding to a 2011 survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute said they expect to work after they officially retire, up from 63 percent in 2008.

That’s astonishing: Three-fourths of us expect to keep working beyond the traditional retirement age. Sure, we can all recite the reasons: Layoffs, persistent unemployment, bankrupt retirement plans, inflation and continuing threats to Social Security. All of my peers are examining their pensions, bank accounts and portfolios — what’s left of them, anyway — and trying to calculate how they’ll survive.

And some of us are figuring it out. I know seniors who’ve were lucky enough to sell or rent their larger homes and scale back to a house and lifestyle more within their means. I also have friends who’ve turned hobbies and avocations into post-retirement careers. My friend Linda checked out of her library job at 62 and jumped full-time into her long-time, part-time bliss, interior design, and she’s very happy. It doesn’t feel like work to her.

The Spouse has negotiated three years of half-time work for his current employer that will not affect his ultimate retirement funding.  He can’t wait. Charlene’s mother cashed out her house, turned the equity over to her contractor son, who used it as the down payment on his new home that included a “mother-in-law” apartment with a separate entrance. Smiles all around.

I know, I’m making it sound easier than it really is. Things like dealing with precarious health, living in remote locations and struggling to keep job skills fresh after a few years (or more) of unemployment can dampen your outlook. Which is why I thought the AP story had some good points:

[S]eniors looking for work must examine their own skills as well as the labor market’s needs in order to find a satisfying job.

Retirees typically have the advantage of being more interested in a job than a career, notes Bill Coleman, vice president at RetirementJobs.com. “They can be a good resource, bringing 30 or 40 years of work experience to the table and not looking to squeeze every last dollar out of a position,” Coleman says. “That can be very appealing to an organization.”

But if the doors to a past career seem closed, or if you need a new challenge, AP has five areas to recommend:

1. Healthcare

Home health aide and personal aide top a Bureau of Labor Statistics list of job fields expected to grow the fastest by 2018. The pay is modest — median wages of roughly $20,000 for each in 2008. But caregiving work can be a good fit for those looking to work 20 to 25 hours a week and do something meaningful.

My mother had a “senior companion” for a year or two, an older woman who would stop by twice a week, do light housework, play cards with her and even take her to doctor’s appointments and to the store. She really enjoyed her company, and it seemed like a good fit for both of them. Later on, Mother needed home healthcare, which was considerably more physically demanding, and later she was in a nursing home. I worked in a nursing home as a college student, and it can be hard, brutal and often discouraging work, so I wouldn’t recommend it. But being a personal aide or a health aide still would be a good possibility.

2. Retail

Retail jobs are popular with older workers. Openings are frequent, hours are flexible and many part-time opportunities are available.

Many retailers welcome seniors as customer service employees or cashiers because they have found that older workers are very good at making customers happy, according to Coleman. Other retail jobs available for seniors may include retail manager, floor supervisor, stock-room associate, greeter or food company demonstration worker.

I know: Cue the Walmart greeter jokes. But, seriously, I find an older retail employee much more approachable and helpful than some surly over-tattooed teenager. And you could likely follow your bliss here: The ladies at the knit shop where Mother bought her yarn were always after her to join them. And my friend Diane has an engineer husband who would like nothing better than to prowl the aisles at Home Depot with a customer, looking for that perfect screwdriver or paint color.

3. Government

Two government agencies in particular — the Department of Veterans Affairs (www.va.gov/jobs) and the Transportation Security Administration (www.tsa.gov/jobs) — are known for seeking older workers. Both agencies have openings requiring little or no experience.

I don’t know much about either of these agencies (although the TSA jobs at the airports look a bit strenuous — and possibly boring — to me). But you should be better protected against age discrimination with a government job. Municipal, county and state governments might also be fruitful sites.

4. Computer work

One of the most popular profession switches for older workers and retirees is going into computer-related work, according to Jim Toedtman, editor of the AARP Bulletin. The jobs entail such tasks as data entry or working with data communication systems and networks.

Specific training to learn new skills is required. Anyone looking to get work in another speciality in retirement should seek out low-cost training opportunities at a community college or elsewhere.

I think those of us who have been employed in any aspect of business during the last five years probably have sufficient computer skills already. But I know there is a premium on even part-time jobs now, so I expect the competition in this area would still be pretty fierce.

5. Temp agencies

Retirees have been flocking to temp agencies. Like seasonal retail work, temporary help in an office or elsewhere can be an ideal match for an older worker and employer. The worker offers flexible hours and experience and gets the opportunity for new challenges and limited-term working assignments that sometimes lead to full-time positions.

I have had experience, although not recently, with temp agencies, and it was all good. I was a “trailing spouse,” quitting my job to follow my husband to his new job in a new city. After weeks of pounding the pavement with no success, I signed up with the first temp agency I found in the phone book. And it was great. The pay wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but they put me to work immediately (that one semester of typing I took in junior high really paid off), and I got a job offer from every office I worked at. I was able to work until a position opened up in my field. I wouldn’t hesitate to try it again if I needed consistent employment.

What are my plans? I’ve always wanted to work in a bookstore, but after the recent Borders bloodbath, I think that might not be a possibility anymore. I’ve also thought about trying to monetize my blog, but I think I got into the game a little too late for that. (And I don’t think I’d be very good at shilling products I don’t use.) After looking over the options, I may delay my retirement from my day job for a year, spend what my Social Security benefit would be and then just bank the rest. I’d earn more that way than I would trying to work part-time for several years. I’m not crazy about the idea, but it could work for me.

How about you?

  1. Karyn S. says:

    Great column today, thanks! I too, had a positive long-term experience with a temp agency when my kids were in school. I worked on and off with them for several years, sometimes working at
    companies for up to two yrs. at a time, half-days.

    Reading your column today made me remember that those agencies are out there and that I
    could still utilize them today, at age 62!

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