Older workers were faced with an especially hard fallout from the pandemic. Not only were unemployment rates for those age 55 and older higher than for mid-career workers, older workers also lost jobs faster and returned to work slower than mid-career workers. This led many baby boomers (aged 57-75) to retire earlier than planned.
In the third quarter of 2020, roughly 28.6 million boomers left the labor force, according to the Pew Research Center.
No doubt many of those furloughed or laid off amid the pandemic were caught off-guard and without enough savings to last through retirement. According to a recent report by PwC, 1 in 4 Americans have no retirement savings and those who are saving aren’t saving enough. The report found that the median retirement account balance for 55- to 64-year-olds is $120,000. When divided over 15 years, that comes to less than $1,000 per month.
“If you’re accumulating debt at the age of 50-something and you’re close to retirement, it really puts a wrinkle in your plans,” said Michael Deutsch, a business consultant who formed a job seekers network on LinkedIn amid the pandemic and holds weekly Zoom meetings with participants. “It’s a scary time for people who are a little bit older.”
So where does that leave baby boomers approaching retirement who are currently in the workforce?
“Many boomers are grimly hanging on to hit the goal of retiring by 67, which for many seems like the quest for the Holy Grail,” Rod Robertson, managing partner at Briggs Capital and author of “Winning at Entrepreneurship: Insider Tips on Buying, Building, and Selling Your Own Business,” told Yahoo Finance. (Monthly Social Security benefits are lower for people who claim them before they reach “full retirement age,” which is 67 for those born 1960 or later; if you delay taking your benefits from your full retirement age up to age 70, the benefit amount increases.)
The labor market can be challenging for this generation because “most of them are higher paid than Gen Z and the young people out there,” says Robertson.
Robertson suggests that baby boomers who want to stay in the workforce for three or four more years take the proactive step of reaching out to their boss or managers first.
“Silence is deafening, if you’re not having this dialogue [about retirement],” said Robertson. “Because [your managers] certainly are talking about you in the conference room. So why not head off trouble and try to control your last tango at the company?”
Robertson suggests that when boomers meet with their manager, they should come prepared with a plan for how they can help the company and perhaps take on other assignments.
If termination or a layoff is inevitable, Robertson suggests boomers be proactive and try to work with their boss or managers to extend their work arrangement under mutually agreeable functions for the job, which might entail becoming a part-time employee and working fewer hours.
According to an article published on LinkedIn by one HR professional, baby boomers are “active in the Gig Economy since age is less a factor when vying for short-term contracts.” By offering to become a freelance or project-based employee, boomers can offer to work under that 30-hour-per-week threshold for full-time employees.
Naturally, not all boomers would be comfortable making an offer to their managers that would include working fewer hours and earning less pay.
For those workers, Robertson suggests offering additional consultant services to other employers to make up for the pay difference. “Do this job 50% of your time and then go get another job for 50% of your time as an independent consultant and a consultant can be anyone. It’s just a fancy word,” said Robertson. “So now you have two jobs and you have no boss and you get to control your own time.” If a boomer creates their own company by forming an LLC, they can be their own boss and work for however long they feel compelled to.
Robertson offers up one last bit of advice for boomers as the pandemic subsides and companies consider hybrid work arrangements.
“So many people are not willing to go back to work, but if you volunteer to the boss that you’re gung-ho to come back [to the office], I’m sure that will greatly ingratiate you with the boss and have you working face to face where your best skills are,” he said.
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