Why More Older Workers Are Finding Themselves Unemployed

Mar 6, 2020 / Amanda Chase, Horsesmouth Assistant Editor

Many Americans plan to save for retirement in their 50s. But what happens if you’re laid off at that age instead? According to researchers, the situation is common, and older workers have a harder time finding a new job—especially one that pays their previous salary. PBS Economics correspondent Paul Solman talks to 59-year-old Jaye Crist, who works three jobs for 70% of his former income. You can find the video and a full transcript here.

Economist Richard Johnson found that 56% of workers experience an involuntary employer-related job separation after age 50. Crist, who had made $100,000 a year, began looking for a comparable job. But he soon realized that, as Professor Teresa Ghilarducci says, ”Older workers are sticky to their geographical place. They have relationships with people in the community. They have a house, for all the reasons that we all know. And so they can’t move to get a better job.”

In addition, Crist says, “A lot of companies don’t want to hire somebody who’s 50+ and has a salary expectation that’s above what they’re willing to pay. So they can easily say it’s because of salary or wage.”

Crist found a job at a local printing shop after a year of looking. It pays hourly, about $40,000 a year. He also works nights at Planet Fitness for $12 an hour—meaning that he gets only about 4 ½ hours of sleep each night. Then on Sundays he heads to a third job at a local brewery. With three jobs, plus a $14,000-a-year pension, Crist still brings in barely 70% of his previous income.

Almost all workers who lose a job at older ages end up making much less on the new job than they did on the old job. Johnson found that only 10% of people earned as much on the new job as on the old job, and, on average, they tended to earn only about half as much. Jaye Crist works more, is paid less. And now that a third of the work force is 50+, there figure to be many more like him.


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