WorkZone: Survey indicates middle-aged workers fear life after layoff

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While many workers are concerned about where they stand in today's topsy-turvy job market, middle-aged employees are especially worried that it would be difficult to find a comparable job if they were to become unemployed, according to a recent survey by ThirdAge, a social networking Web site for baby boomers and midlifers.

An overwhelming majority of the survey respondents -- a full 79 percent -- indicated that they believed that it was more difficult for those over 50 to find employment in this climate. Eighteen percent said they would even go so far as to dye their hair to look younger when seeking a new job.

"We strongly believe people in midlife are extremely valuable assets to employers, and they've got a great deal to offer in terms of experience," said Sharon Whiteley, CEO of ThirdAge Inc., which is based in New York.

"They are open to acquiring new skills," she said. "They traditionally have a strong work ethic. And they have the maturity and insight that comes with experience."

With fewer traditional pensions for retirees and the recession devastating investments, baby boomers are expected to work longer than their earlier cohorts -- if employers retain them.

At a time in their lives when many midlife adults are planning to pay for their children's educations and setting aside money for retirement, they also may have reached a pivotal point where their technical skills are out of date and their costs too high for the companies for which they work.

The ThirdAge survey, which was conducted in late July, included 1,300 people at least 40 years old; 67 percent were female, and 33 percent were male.

Among the most compelling findings were their concerns and attitudes about staying competitive in an increasingly competitive employment environment.

Almost half of the respondents -- 46 percent -- said they believed that they would need new or enhanced skills to be competitive in today's job market.

However, the majority still believe that improving their job skills is an option they would pursue only if they had to.

Twenty-five percent said they would definitely be interested in pursuing new skills; 35 percent said they might consider it; and 40 percent said they would learn new skills only if it were a requirement.

Online classes were by far the most popular way in which the respondents would opt to learn new skills (57 percent), followed by classes at a local community college, university, four-year college or extension school at 40 percent.

Interestingly, only 7 percent of the survey respondents said they were actively looking for a job, 23 percent were very concerned that their spouse or partner would lose his or her job or have hours reduced. Another 21 percent were somewhat concerned. Yet a whopping 72 percent of them reported feeling the stress of economic uncertainty.

Tim Grant can be reached at or 412-263-1591.


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