Economy

Ageism Is Rampant in COVID-19 Era

More than 5 million older workers lost their jobs between March and June of this year and nearly half (2.4 million) left the labor force for good. Employment among older workers is about 15 percentage points lower than it was in February, while the rate for all workers between the ages of 21 and 60 is about 10 points below February’s total.

According to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, of the 73 million U.S. boomers in 2019, 20% of those over the age of 65 were working or actively looking for work, compared with just 12% two decades earlier.

“The traditional retirement age is a thing of the past,” commented the firm’s senior vice president Andrew Challenger. Older workers choose to remain in the workforce for a variety of reasons, he went on to say, but people in this age group “run into biases that keep them from landing positions for which they are not only qualified, but in which they would greatly benefit the company.”

Age discrimination in hiring has been illegal in the United States since 1967, but that hasn’t stopped the practice. Challenger, Gray cites a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research that found people over 40 are about half as likely to get a job offer if their age is known. How could it not be, even if older workers downplay their work history on their résumé?

Older workers currently face the added disadvantage of being more at risk of contracting COVID-19. This keeps more of them from seeking work and, possibly, keeps employers from hiring them.

Andrew Challenger noted, “This can be economically devastating for members of this group. It can lead to financial hardship for many, forcing older people to begin receiving Social Security benefits earlier or depleting savings, 401(k)s, and/or IRAs.”

While there’s not much a boomer can do about withdrawing funds from a 401(k) or an IRA short of landing another job, it may be possible to get a second-chance at maximizing your Social Security benefits if COVID-19 forced you to take the benefits before reaching age 70. The bad news is you have to repay the money.