Enhancing Re-Employment Opportunities and Outcomes for Older Employees


The COVID-19 pandemic led to significant job loss for employees of all demographics. However, while the re-employment rates of many demographics have improved over the last 2.5 years, it hasn’t improved for older people, especially older women of color. This study by ZipRecruiter explores the reasons and proposes a few steps companies can take.

Despite the chaos and suffering created by the COVID-19 pandemic for two years, the job market is on a slow growth trajectory. According to the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) 2021 reportOpens a new window , the crisis-induced “jobs gap” was expected to fall from a projected 75 million in 2021 to 23 million this year. About 2.5 years post-pandemic, the employment rate among working-class African-American men improved by two percentage points from the pre-pandemic rate. Similarly, the participation rate for employees with disabilities and teens has improved.

However, one section of workers hasn’t recovered — older employees, especially older women of color. The pandemic lowered older employees’ employment more sharply than any other cohort. ZipRecruiter recently conducted a study to find the cause for the constant decrease in labor market outcomes for these workers, especially older women of color. 

The following are a few findings and recommendations for businesses.

See more: The Critical Role of Senior Employees in L&D: Mentoring the Next Generation

Reasons Old Workers Suffered Great Employment Loss During the Pandemic

The popular belief may be that voluntary retirement is the primary reason for declining employment among older workers. However, the actual reason was involuntary job loss along with higher barriers to re-employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 93,000 older workers retired in 2020 than in the previous year. However, about 20 million people were discharged or laid off.

While displaced workers usually get new jobs fast enough, the pandemic was different. A recent reportOpens a new window by the Bureau of Labor Statistics had some revealing insights. Among all employees above 20 who were displaced from jobs from January 2019 to December 2021 and who worked for their company for at least three years before getting displaced, 65.2% got re-employed as of January this year. However, among those aged above 65, only 27.8% got re-employed. This was 15 percentage points lower than the rate for the same cohort in a pre-pandemic survey.

Another studyOpens a new window further showed higher retirement rates due to the pandemic and argued that most excess retirements are permanent. This is because, while older employees may re-enter the workforce when economic conditions improve, they never work substantially again once they retire.

Reasons Older Women of Color Are Unable To Afford the Decline in Employment

While retirement is not necessarily a concern, premature retirement is a challenge for many. According to recent dataOpens a new window from U.S. Census Bureau, 10.7% of Americans above 65 lived below the poverty line in 2021. The percentage was 9.5% in 2020. This data is crucial, given that the rates for other age groups declined. Further, poverty rates were higher among Blacks and Hispanics, with women having increased poverty rates than men.

Older women have lesser earnings than men and need to stretch that money for a longer time. This is because they live longerOpens a new window than men, and the longevity gap between the two genders has increased in recent years. Many women also need to split their retirement benefits among multiple family members.

Putting all these factors together, it may be seen why women of color can ill afford a decline in employment due to the pandemic. According to the study, the situation of older women has become more concerning due to inflation and economic uncertainty. A study byOpens a new window the University of Massachusetts-Boston showed that over 50% of older Americans could not afford essential expenses.

In essence, older people, especially women of color, suffer from pandemic-induced job loss and cannot afford it. On the other hand, businesses want more talent. Many of them going are also considering non-traditional candidates. Then, why aren’t there enough employment opportunities for older workers?

Reasons for Older People’s Employment Opportunities Aren’t Bouncing Back

Despite the current job market conditions where organizations are looking for talent and are focusing on flexibility and culture, older employees’ recovery has stalled. For some part, it may be obvious that some retirees are reluctant to look for a job now for various reasons. For example, some may still be concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their health, or some may become caregivers in their families. 

But there are a few more key reasons for older people not being connected with current opportunities in the job market. The first reason is the industry mix of jobs in growing industries. For a long time, job recovery has been led by industries with young employee populations. As such, older employees may not be aware of the opportunities, which predominantly go to people outside their networks. Further, companies may ignore older employees in industries with a younger employee base.

Secondly, job search and work have moved online while older workers haven’t. Due to the pandemic, much of the work went remote. But poor digital literacy has become a barrier for older workers. 

Another reason is age bias. Many organizations feel that older employers do not have the physical strength and tech savviness for the job. According to a 2019 surveyOpens a new window by ZipRecruiter, 54% of older employees were forced out of employment because of their age.

The last reason is a lack of confidence among older employees. According to another survey by ZipRecruiter, this group has the least faith of all the groups in finding a job in a month, finding a job of their preference, and finding a job paying higher than their previous job. Many older people may hesitate to apply for jobs due to lacking confidence. Their job search also takes longer than the ones of younger employees.

See more: How to Foster a Multigenerational Workforce for your Next-Gen Company

What Organizations Can Do to Enhance Employment Outcomes for Older Employees

While there are a few things older employees can do to alleviate their re-employment problems, we will focus on what organizations can do to help.

For starters, businesses should consider eliminating age bias and recruiting across all age groups. Companies committed to this move should publicly signal their openness so that older workers can find them. Companies, especially the large ones, should consider having the following:

  • Older employee recruitment programs
  • Re-educating and upskilling programs to keep older employees up-to-date with current technologies, skills, and business needs
  • Job-sharing programs that allow two employees to split a full-time job into part-time jobs instead of leaving the organization for partial retirement
  • Work redesign programs that adapt responsibilities to accommodate injured or physically disabled workers who can no longer perform specific tasks, as well as provide assistive technology and tools
  • Programs that help move older employees move from more physically demanding duties to lesser demanding roles, and
  • Programs that help employees slowly taper their work hours toward retirement

In today’s job market, the primary requirement for organizations is to develop an internal awareness of the challenges and needs of older workers. This should be followed up with the proper steps to improve the opportunities and employment outcomes of older employees. 

What steps have you taken to improve re-employment opportunities for older employees? Let us know on FacebookOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , and LinkedInOpens a new window .

Image Source: Shutterstock


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