Retirement is often thought of as living leisurely and enjoying the benefits of a long career. Many close to this age are still working that 9 to 5 to keep a roof over their heads.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people 55 and older are having to forego their golden years and accept a reality that they may never stop working.
“You want to enjoy life. You don’t want to work all your life,” said Doug Allen, who is recently unemployed.
A growing share of baby boomers are opting to work well into what traditionally would be their retirement years.
“There’s just too many bills to pay,” said Carol Hayes, who is looking for a job.
Instead of kicking back and relaxing, they’re still struggling to make ends meet.
“My husband is 75 years old and he still works. We’ve both been struggling to live a normal life and be able to pay our bills,” Hayes said.
Through 2024, the older American workforce is on track to grow by nearly 5 percent.
“Unfortunately, 55 and older workers have a hard time finding a job if they lose the one they have,” said Tammy Jones, Goodwill Career Services manager.
This has become a stark reality for folks like Allen and Hayes, who have become unemployed.
“You realize it’s going to happen one day. I’ve been working for 32 years,” Allen said.
Allen said circumstances for workers have changed over the years, leaving doubts for many about their future.
“When I went to work there were no insecurities about your job. They were busy enough where you knew that job was going to be there for a long time,” Allen said.
Economist Mervin Jeberaj with the University of Arkansas follows these trends closely. It’s a problem he and many others have been keeping an eye on.
“I think this has been sort of this long-term sleepy problem that we haven’t dealt with. A lot of the baby boomers that are retiring are the ones that have saved for retirement, and the ones that haven’t continue to remain in the workforce,” Jeberaj said.
Arkansas’ labor participation for those nearing retirement age is close to 70 percent, but those numbers fall off after the age of 65.
This has left many to wonder if employers are choosing to bring on younger workers rather than hire older employees.
“It is technically illegal to discriminate on the basis of age for people above the age of 40, but a lot of it still happens under the radar and it’s difficult to enforce,” Jeberaj said.
It’s a concern for Allen and many others in this situation.
“I would think after 32 years of work that there would be something better available,” Allen said.
Some in Northwest Arkansas see these circumstances first hand and believe it boils down to one thing.
“When they see someone older they just automatically think that they are not skilled in current technology,” Hayes said.
“Sometimes some of the challenges they face are lack of computer skills with the technology that we now have,” Jones said.
Jones said her organization is aware of the hurdles they face and is doing its part to help many like Hayes get relevant career training to get back into the workforce.
“While she is here with us she is learning new skills while she is looking for a full-time job,” Jones said.
The Goodwill Career Center in Northwest Arkansas is just one of the places that help people navigate the Internet to find jobs while also using things like Microsoft Word to create a resume.
“Because it is going to be more difficult for them to find work,” Jones said.
Hayes believes these services will make a difference in her job search.
“It’s really important for older people to keep up with those skills to compete in the job market,” Hayes said.
Until many in this age bracket find that new career, one of the biggest worries is having peace of mind.
“The things that people are fearing the most is the insurance,” Allen said.
With many factors playing into the trend of the older workforce and the age of retirement going up, both Allen and Hayes have a word of warning to the younger generations.
“It’s becoming well known that people are not going to be able to retire at 65 like they thought they would,” Hayes said
“You better take care of yourself and you better have some money saved up because it’s not going to get any cheaper,” Allen said.