- The economic downturn prompted by the coronavirus comes at a particularly bad time for older workers.
- New research takes a look at how well those individuals may fare when it comes to working from home or finding new employment.
- Results are so-so. Older workers are just as able to work from home, but fewer than half have the opportunity to do so. Meanwhile, new jobs often don't offer the pay or benefits they may be looking for.
The economic downturn prompted by the coronavirus has been harsh for many American workers.
About 47.2% of Americans are jobless, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meanwhile, many of those who are employed have had to abruptly pivot to remote work and may face pay cuts.
The sudden changes can be a shock, particularly for older workers who are approaching retirement and hoping to get in a few last years of earnings to top off retirement savings and cover health insurance needs before reaching Medicare eligibility.
In recent research, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College looked at a couple of key concerns that will impact older workers' careers: their prospects for working from home, and whether there are adequate job opportunities for those who are searching.
Older workers may be the last to go back to work due to the health risk posed by Covid-19. So the Center for Retirement Research set out to find out how well equipped they are to handle working from home.
The results show their prospects are mixed.
Only about 45% of older workers have positions that allow them to work remotely.
The remaining 55% likely will have issues returning to work, facing a choice of either putting their health at risk or delaying going back and further depleting their financial resources.
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The good news is that age alone shouldn't diminish older workers' ability to work from home, the research found. Workers who are older actually are increasingly likely to have jobs that can be done remotely.
"It's positive that they don't have a relative disadvantage in terms of working from home," said Center for Retirement Research director Alicia Munnell.
But that ability to work from home isn't spread out equally. Those who have higher earnings are more likely to be able to work remotely. Women also tend to be able to work from home more. That's consistent with other research that has pointed to women making job flexibility a priority, according to the Center for Retirement Research.
There is some optimism when it comes to job prospects for older workers, separate research by the Center for Retirement Research found.
The researchers analyzed the job listings on RetirementJobs.com, a site specifically aimed at older workers. Some of the positions were also advertised on CareerBuilder.com, which "indicate a willingness to hire older — as well as younger — workers," the research said.
But positions advertised directly on the site tend to have lower average wages and are less likely to mention benefits. Examples include delivery or retail positions.
Consequently, the work advertised might be suitable for bridge jobs, but not substantial full-time work, the research said. The opportunities also could pose difficulties for those who are looking to get health-care coverage through their employment until they reach Medicare eligibility age.
"It was encouraging if you took the site as a whole, because there were so many of these jobs where employers were open to older workers," Munnell said. "But it's less heartening if you look at the ones that are aiming for specifically for older workers."
In looking at the research, a new group of haves and have nots emerge: those who have jobs and those who do not, Munnell said.
The big question is whether those who do not have jobs will find adequate opportunities to shore up their income in the coming months.
"In the best of times, finding a match between a fully developed older worker with preferences and skills and a slot is hard and takes time," Munnell said. "When you have high levels of unemployment, it's going to take a lot more time."
It's not exactly a repeat of the financial crisis of more than a decade ago, when everyone saw their retirement investments depleted and older workers were forced to work longer.
This time, personal retirement investments have likely rebounded with the market. Still, many older workers will need to work longer.
Before the pandemic, 50% of workers were at risk of not being able to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Now, high unemployment could make that worse.
One side effect may be that more people will claim Social Security early at age 62, just as they did in the financial crisis, due to the difficulty finding work, Munnell said.
"I expect it to spike up again in 2020 and '21, just because people are going to just find it virtually impossible to find new work," Munnell said.