Did you know that modern record-keeping shows the U.S. now has its oldest workforce ever? An article from the American Society on Aging (ASA) says that the number of adults ages 50+ is at 34 percent, and that's the largest portion since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking, in 1947.
Sounds cheerful, right? After all for the last quarter century (at least) older adults have been reassured about getting and keeping employment. One heartening message is that thanks to laws passed in this time period they're better protected against age discrimination.
That message's challenge
I remember my friends and I hitting our 50s. I was lucky to move into a nice corporate job, but the others? Nah. They were actually the managing editors of consumer health magazines and newsletters ironically reaching outs to seniors. But when my friends joined the readership's aged group, suddenly their pubs fired them and hired "experienced" 30-somethings. (Why none of my friends sued their employers, I have no idea.)
So what's the truth about seniors and potential unemployment woes?
Some senior safety
The ASA brings up a very disturbing point. Using certain insights from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the Association notes that older workers are generally in the occupations least protected against unemployment. The safer jobs belong to many already working (or easily transferred to working) at home; e.g., computer programmers, certain administrative positions, and statisticians. And while police, firefighters, and others in healthcare are in riskier positions (especially with COVID added), they're safer from unemployment woes.
Unfortunately, many of today's boomers are not only not protected against unemployment, they're in less protected areas of our workforce.
So what are older workers' risks in today's pandemic?:
1. They are overall more likely to face a COVID wellness issue. ASA's article says 1/3 of this older workforce--18.4 million--"face serious risk of illness or unemployment because of the jobs they hold."
Here are some stats noted:
Personal care and home health aides 37%
Cleaning and maintenance in buildings and grounds 39%
Food prep and serving operations 19%
2. Older workers are more physically vulnerable to the virus. As we age, we're more likely to have weakened immune systems because of the medicines taken and/or multiple chronic medical conditions. Add in lack of proper equipment where many seniors work and ASA notes that adds to their vulnerability.
3. Lack of paid sick leave. The stats show older workers are more likely NOT to have this benefit; 54 percent are denied. So when older adults get sick, they're instantly without pay.
What must we do?
ASA is suggesting some important policy revolutions:
Lowering Medicare eligibility to age 50
Providing unemployment benefits longer
Raising Social Security benefits
As you can see these, and many other suggestions from ASA and other leaders, would be revolutionary.
So this leads to a critical question: how brave are America's leaders?
That's not just our politicians. Biz leaders must reform corporate regs. The lawyers need to get on board. And the market called "Gray Panthers" by one group needs to insist on true help.
That insistence has options. It can be by not going back to work, especially as states insist on opening against solid medical advice. It can be going back...but to protest at the gates. (Quiet protest, folks. Put the guns down.)
And of course it should be at voting booths in a few months. Even if we seem partially cleared by November (and we could be facing a new outbreak by then, coupled with flu) tell those who delayed so badly, who didn't demonstrate the rules themselves, that they're out. They showed their chance to lead...and led to the worse case scenarios for seniors and loved ones. ###
For more information, see the ASA's article.
Wendy Meyeroff has been the Savvy Scribe for Seniors, especially in health & tech communications, for over 20 years. She's collaborated with everyone from individual consultants to the U.S. government and Fortune 500 companies to develop factual-but-fascinating B2B and B2C print and online materials. NIH, Dr. Oz, Merck, the American Heart Association and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center are on her professional storytelling list.
Illustration: Kevin Smith on Flickr.com