Even before the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the job rolls, many workers were already wondering whether they would have to continue working when they got older. They likely were suffering from a dearth of savings and not ready financially for the longer lives they were going to lead. The Bureau of Labor Statistics said in 2017 that workers age 65 and older were smaller parts of the labor force but were going to see faster rates of growth.

These trends prompted a team led by Alicia Munnell, the director at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, to ask the question: Who is hiring older workers and what are they hiring them for?

To answer that question, the team looked at the postings on RetirementJobs.com, a site that boasts 1 million members and says its role is to find companies hiring older workers. The widely held assumption is that older workers are going to be offered low-paying, part-time jobs that don’t offer benefits like retirement vehicles or health care, even though many will increasingly be demanding these things to bridge the gap and extend their careers.

“The results, at first blush, suggest reason for optimism about the jobs available to an older job-seeker,” writes Munnell and her team in the report, “What Jobs Do Employers Want Older Workers To Do?”

“While the jobs posted on RetirementJobs.com represent a small fraction of job openings nationally, they nevertheless show the same geographic dispersion as jobs aimed at all age groups. They are also disproportionately likely to be full-time jobs.” The group also writes that a broad array of occupations is included in the listings, and that the jobs on the site offer higher wages than general posting samples.

The bad news is that there’s a difference between those help wanted ads that merely welcome older workers and those seeking out older workers explicitly. The postings on RetirementJobs.com include cross-posted jobs from CareerBuilder.com (which posts 80% of the listings). While overall salaries are higher on the RetirementJobs board, things change when potential employers ask for older workers directly.

These want ads likely offer lower paying jobs with lesser fringe benefits, and they are usually asking people to fill a vacancy. Those jobs might be acceptable to workers seeking to find “bridge” jobs. Of course, the workers might also not care about benefits if they are already receiving Medicare. But if they are trying to extend savings and fill the health-care gap in the years before Medicare kicks in, these job openings might not serve them.

“Policymakers can address the deficiency in fringe benefits on offer to older workers through a number of active or proposed policy tools,” the paper says. “On the savings front, auto-IRAs being implemented in some states may complement relatively high-salary jobs with no employer retirement plan.”

Despite widespread worries about what technology is going to do to employment in the future and how jobs will be observed, Munnell and her team noticed a big improvement in the environment for older workers in the economy. In the 1970s, '80s and '90s, their options were narrow: It was hard to build a new career in a company from scratch when you were older. The aging workers at companies were the ones hanging onto the jobs they'd already long held in these “internal” labor markets.

That’s turned around, however, in the information economy.

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