Too young to retire, too old to be hired – the 50+ employment paradox

Meet the paradox

This month the state retirement age for men and women was unified at 65. It will move to 68 by 2039.

The ‘ageing’ of the state retirement age clearly indicates the expectation by the state that people will work for longer. Given the recent increases in longevity, this would appear a reasonable expectation.

However, the rate of population ageing is slowing. And many people are uncertain if they could work through to state retirement age in their current occupations – the fear of ‘working until you drop’.

But the even bigger problem is that employers haven’t caught up with the idea of working longer. Research last year at Anglia Ruskin University here revealed significant bias against job candidates over the age of 50. Older workers may well:

  • want to change to more suitable jobs.
  • want different, more flexible terms.
  • want to take a break from work to care for elderly relatives.
  • end up getting eased out, perhaps on early retirement terms, and then want to work again.

But they find that it isn’t easy getting hired again after 50. And a government policy which moves ahead of market practice is a rather blunt instrument to nudge us along with.

Meet the paradox – too old to be hired, too young to retire.

It could be worse – 50 is not necessarily too old to work at all

If you have a job at 50, the picture is improving. Data shows 50+ employment trending upwards and 2018 has seen employment of over 50s top 10 million for the first time. Employers are finding it worthwhile retaining more of their older workers.

Growth rates for over 50s employment have trended above those for the general working population, and news on employment in general is favourable. Redundancies are at their lowest since comparable records began in 1995, and vacancies are the highest since 2001.

But even so, employment of over 50s is still low compared to the rest of the workforce. Only 72% of 50-64 year olds are currently in work compared to 85% of 35 to 49 year olds. Gains in over 50s employment are going to need to increase considerably if the rate of employing older workers is to catch up with the rest of the population.

The Missing Million

While there may have been improvements in employment for the over 50s, the levels of unemployment and economic inactivity (people not in work and not looking for work) have remained static. Increases in employment have been driven by growth in the 50-64 year old population, not by reductions in unemployment or inactivity.

Going back to 2014, there have been around 0.3 million 50-64 year olds out of work and 3.3 million economically inactive. 0.6 million of those termed economically inactive would like to work, if they could find suitable jobs. When the inactive wanting to work are added to those unemployed, we find the over 50 workforce ‘missing million’.

Back to the paradox

Clearly the real problem is in getting over 50s currently out of work back into jobs – people who have been laid off, given up work to care for elderly family members, or taken early retirement and decided they want, or need to go back to work. Problems with age bias in recruitment algorithms were discussed on my last blog here. It would appear that it is employer bias, particularly in recruitment, that is critically holding back the government’s aim of getting the ‘missing million’ back into work.

As the Anglia Ruskin study points up, while you may be able to keep a job at 50, in the face of age biased recruitment processes, finding a new one is much more difficult. Gaby Hinsliff highlighted the issue in a recent article for the Guardian here focusing on this month’s equalisation of the state retirement age and the campaign by Waspi – the Women Against State Pension Age Inequality.

She notes how older women face considerable prejudices at work, but are now being forced to retire later. ‘The rage of the Waspi (Women Against State Pension Inequality) members – the generation born in the 1950s and 1960s who didn’t realise until too late that the government had deferred their state pension age – stems partly from the ageism that hampers their efforts to work for longer. How can they be too young to stop working, in the eyes of government, but still too old to hire for employers who haven’t caught up with the change?’

So we return to the paradox – too young to retire, too old to hire.

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