90 is Real. The Real Issue With an Aging Workforce.

Were you one of the 11.3 million that tuned in to see Jimmy Fallon's premier as host of The Tonight Show this week? I'm already a Fallon fan, so I thought it was terrific. I mean, the U-2 roof-top performance, Rutger's Drumline, Will Smith and at least 10 other stars paying up their bets on one show? Wow.  That was one of the best late-night shows I've caught in a while.

So what does The Tonight Show have to do with recruiting? Let's face it, people like me find something to do with employment, jobs, or the recruiting industry in just about everything the see and do. Geek hazard I suppose. I planned to write on recruiting new talent to replace the aging workforce this week, and then Will Smith helped me change gears. Here's how:

Will Smith's appearance was as awesome as would be expected but when he spoke about having his 45th birthday in September it really got my attention. “I’m 45 right now, " he said. "... with the state of modern medicine—90, we’re all probably gonna hit 90... 90’s like a real thing now… 90 is real." Whoa. That was like an epiphany for me. My wheels start turning. I repeat what he said aloud to my husband, who says it as well."90 is REAL."

Smith went on to say, "So, I was thinking ‘This is halftime.’ Right? So, when you come out for the third quarter, in any sporting event the third quarter’s an important quarter. That’s not the time when you start relaxing and you start chilling. You gotta go get it in the third quarter.” Well, YEAH. He's right. Forty-five is definitely the time to bring it! By 50 you are just getting in to your career groove.  So why in the world is turning 50 scary to the unemployed?

In the past, 50 meant winding down the last 15 years until retirement.  If living until 90 is a real thing, is retirement really feasible at 65? Retirement requires some pretty significant financial security. I can assure you, based on my current situation I will likely be working until at least 80! Those in exceptional wealth like Will Smith probably could retire then, but will they want to? Doubtful.

Teresa Ghilarducci, is a professor of economics at the New School for Social Research. She wrote an article in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times in 2012 that sums up my concern. She wrote, "To maintain living standards into old age we need roughly 20 times our annual income in financial wealth. If you earn $100,000 at retirement, you need about $2 million beyond what you will receive from Social Security. If you have an income-producing partner and a paid-off house, you need less. This number is startling in light of the stone-cold fact that most people aged 50 to 64 have nothing or next to nothing in retirement accounts and thus will rely solely on Social Security."

So if we assume that the general population will need 20 times their annual income to comfortably retire at 65-70, is the aging population really such a big concern? Do we really need to start bringing in the "Millenials" to replace the "Baby Boomers" and those die-hard workers from "The Silent Generation" ?  I think one could argue the answer to that is no.

I bet there are definitely some members of that millenial generation that would agree with me. After all, what about all the jobs we told them were going to be out there waiting for them as college graduates? Are they really there? An even bigger concern might be the unemployed in the 50 plus age demographic. Why is is so hard for a person with 20 plus years of impeccable job experience finding it difficult to find a job at 60 when the economy left them job less due to downsizing.

Beyond the issues above, I am specifically worried about companies that will choose not to adapt their current healthcare programs to manage safety and health concerns for older workers that refuse to retire. An aging workforce internally will require attention to schedule flexibility, wellness programs, ergonomic job accommodations and safety checks to determine whether safety procedures are being followed correctly.

Smart employers will consider the needs of aging workers, both to aid retention, and to create an environment that is inclusive, but how many will actually be prepared for this? I suspect the number is low. Ultimately a workforce with blended generations will likely be the ideal but how easy will that transition be? Are recruitment teams prepared to identify excellent candidates from any age demographic and are employers prepared to ensure that there is a fair and consistent process for screening that ensures this?

I found one article on Business Insurance that noted a survey of 522 employers. The survey reported 85% of respondents said they are very or somewhat concerned about an aging workforce. With that said, 64% of the respondents said they had NOT designed their absence and disability management programs around those concerns.

While I don't have any data to back it up, it is my opinion that employers are much more focused on how they will recruit new talent, not on keeping the aging talent that will hit retirement age, much less providing an aging-friendly workplace that will encourage employment of those that may be nearing retirement age with no intent to actually retire. It will be interesting to see what happens when they don't see the turn-over from retirement that was expected. It is a prime landscape for under-the-rug age discrimination, and the younger age group is not really protected.

What challenges will an aging workforce without the means to retire do you foresee? Do you have examples of individuals over 50 already struggling to find employment opportunities at all? I'm very interested in this topic and plan to devote another blog to the topic. Sound off below and tell me your thoughts on the subject!

Amy McDonald works in an executive role with several employment websites including REKRUTR.com. She has been working in the human resources and recruiting industry for over 20 years. Amy has worked with hundreds of recruitment professionals throughout her career, training best practices in sourcing candidates and refining the recruitment process. In her spare time, Amy also participates as a thought leader and contributor for recruitment information with BIZCATALYST360.

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Comment by Keith D. Halperin on February 19, 2014 at 3:22pm

Thanks again, Amy. I'm afraid until we get universal health coverage that doesn't necessarily require employer-basis for it, employers are going to increasing work to get rid of employees over 40 who make more money, have higher health costs, and are less likely to "drink the Kool-Aid" than our younger colleagues.

One last thing: if 90 is the new 70, 70 is the new 50, 50 is the new 30, then is 20 the new baby?

Keep Blogging,

Keith "Old Enough to Know Better" Halperin

Comment by Noel Cocca on February 19, 2014 at 5:54pm

I saw that show Amy and being 45 also realized much the same thing....game on!  I know that I plan to work as long as I can. For many they might not have that option.  Nice post and thank you. 

Comment by Amy McDonald on February 20, 2014 at 5:55am

Thanks for the comments gentlemen! 

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on February 20, 2014 at 1:40pm

You're very welcome, Amy.


Comment by Anna Brekka on February 20, 2014 at 3:22pm

Oh so true 90 is the new 70!  I do not think we as a whole have thought this true at all. I believe a lot of of the 50+ are still hoping to retire at 65. On what I'm not sure but worst of all I do not believe corporate is ready to see a 65 year old as a valuable asset to the team. 

Comment by Amy McDonald on February 20, 2014 at 6:48pm

I agree with you Anna. I think we will see a lot more age discrimination and harassment complaints as that group hits 65. For many the realization that the retirement they've been dreaming of was financially not an option is likely to put them on the defensive to begin with, especially in a middle income situation. Thanks for your thoughts!


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