More seniors staying in the labor market, data shows

Employers finding older workers are reliable employees


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Saul Markowitz could not be happier about his most recent hire.

The president of Markowitz Communications often hires his former interns, who tend to stay a couple of years before moving on to other career opportunities. In March, though, he and his wife, Bonnie, the company's vice president, made a different call.

Mr. Markowitz had known Linda Hoye, 66, for years and decided she was the perfect fit for their Lawrenceville public relations firm.

Her hire is not as unusual as it might have been decades ago.

In April, 18.9 percent of people over 65 in the U.S. were either working or looking for work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That level of labor force participation by older workers has not been seen, before the past year, since 1964, a year before Medicaid was signed into law.

Workers have seen the financial realities of their retirements change, prompting some to return to the workforce.

Forty years ago, workers were promised pensions that would provide defined benefits for the rest of their lives.

"That changed mid-game and it really affected a lot of people," said Jacquelyn B. James, director of research for the Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College's Lynch School of Education.

Ms. Hoye met Mr. Markowitz in 1990, when -- as an older student -- she had an internship for the University of Pittsburgh alumni magazine and wrote a profile of him.

Over the years, they kept in touch. In March, Mr. Markowitz, 51, was in a crunch on some projects and needed help. He knew that Ms. Hoye was out of work, so he called her. Ms. Hoye was an experienced professional who had the skills the company needed, as well as a whole raft of contacts in town.

Ms. Hoye was so eager -- and the company was so busy -- that although Mr. Markowitz called her on a Friday to start on Monday, she ended up helping in the office over the weekend.

'Loyalty and dedication'

After years of younger hires polishing their resumes and heading out the door, it was beneficial to have someone who is happy to stick around.

"The huge missing piece we had [in other workers] was the loyalty and dedication," Ms. Markowitz said.

Ms. Hoye lives in Ross with her husband, who is retired, as well as her daughter and four grandchildren. There were times during the five years when she was out of work that the family turned to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank for groceries. Now she is glad for the opportunity to help support her family.

"Combining public relations with marketing and writing, this is my dream job," Ms. Hoye said.

She recently went to see her doctor and said he commented on the change: "He said, 'You look so much younger.' It has to do with the fact that I am doing something I love."

While five years is an especially long time for most people to be unemployed, it typically takes longer for older workers to land jobs than it does for younger people.

In April, according to the Labor Department, the average duration for unemployment was 37.1 weeks. For workers 55 to 64, the average duration was 49.8 weeks. For workers over 65, the average was 53.5 weeks or more than a year.

Unemployment compensation expires after 26 weeks, or six months, which is 21/2 months shy of the average length of unemployment.

Overall, older workers tend to have a lower unemployment rate than the overall population. While the unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, for all workers was 5.9 percent in April, the rate for those over 55 was 4.7 percent. For workers over 65, it was 4.5 percent, although those lower rates can partially be a function of older workers giving up the job search and deciding to retire.

Ms. James, at the Boston College center on aging and work, said many people don't have retirement savings to match their life expectancies. People who are on the cusp of retirement already have seen their parents live much longer than they ever expected.

"We weren't thinking of retirements of 30 years even 20 years ago," she said.

Ms. James said that once employers get over their initial age biases, they have found that older workers often make good employees.

"Older workers do have an incredible work ethic," she said. "They don't get as easily rattled when unexpected things happen."

The center's research also has shown that older workers tend to exhibit greater safety-related behavior and lower rates of substance abuse. They are also less likely to engage in counterproductive work behaviors, such as speaking negatively about the workplace.

"They are more positive, more resilient and more engaged in the work," Ms. James said.

Al Ressler, the senior director for field operations at the national Older Worker Career Center in Arlington, Va., which has contracts with federal agencies to provide older workers, said supervisors who hire older workers tend to love having them around.

Mr. Ressler said his organization places water hydrologists, microbiologists and chemists with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Once in those jobs, he said, they are "not just doing the technical work or the work that needs to be done, they are also mentoring the younger workforce."

The only complaints that he gets from the older workers he has placed, he said, is they would like more flexibility in their schedules, more money and the ability to supervise other workers. Generally, the contract that got them into those jobs will not allow them to be in supervisory roles.

At 83, ready and able

Marianne Goldstein used to work in advertising and later in her family's lighting business. Then she retired and moved from Squirrel Hill to an apartment in Gateway Center, Downtown.

Six years ago, she realized she was bored. She saw that a company in her building was doing telephone surveys, so she applied.

Now 83, she puts in more than 40 hours in some weeks because there is a lot of work. In other weeks, she works less.

Ms. Goldstein doesn't conduct the surveys; she supervises people who do. Much of the work happens in the evenings and on weekends, but it is no trouble for her to open up the office for the staff -- she just has to take an elevator to work.

She likes working a lot better than doing chores around the house.

And she has a record that a lot of employers like: "I show up, which a lot of people don't do."

Meanwhile, at Markowitz Communications, Ms. Hoye is still thrilled with the job six weeks in.

"I love working with Saul," she said. "It's just so much fun. I'm excited every day to get into my car and come to work."

When she was unemployed, it was a struggle to get by.

"Saul was like this bright light at the end of the tunnel I had been in," she said. "I feel like Cinderella."

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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