The April 2020 unemployment rate for workers 55 and older rose to 13.6 percent though many of these Americans want to work. COVID-19 restrictions and associated layoffs account for some unemployment increase, but so does the lack of employment opportunities among older Americans.
A coexisting challenge in the US is that senior living facility operators struggle to retain a reliable workforce to provide care to their senior residents. Other American industries can also benefit from increasing older workforce opportunities, such as manufacturing and the food service/hospitality industry, where they face labor shortages. Helping older Americans retool skills that address specific market labor shortages solves two problems with one group of workers.
Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Tim Scott (R-SC) may simultaneously solve helping older workers find employment and the senior living industry’s challenge of finding and keeping competent workers. The chairman (Casey) and ranking member (Scott) of the Senate Special Committee on Aging have written a letter asking the US Department of Labor to prioritize the support of older workers. Additionally, the head of the National Council on Aging wants the Department of Labor (DOL) to establish an “Older Workers Bureau.”
The Senator’s letter asks Labor Secretary Martin Walsh to provide information about how his department is tracking trends in the sorts of jobs older workers perform and how the department can help older American workers navigate available opportunities. The letter further requests information about the DOL and the Biden administration’s collaboration using apprenticeship initiatives and other existing programs to train older workers with new skills to reenter the workforce. Finally, the Senators seek to understand partnerships between the DOL and the private sector to advance older American worker employment opportunities.
A recent Senate Aging Committee hearing entitled “A Changing Workforce: Supporting Older Workers Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond” calls for a bureau within the labor department to “look holistically at older worker issues across the federal government” and “identify and coordinate existing federal resources, identify and work to eliminate barriers to working longer, and disseminate promising employment and training practices” according to witness Ramsey Alwin. Alwin is president and CEO of the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and further discussed the need for federal resources to promote public-private partnerships.
The reintroduction of the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act on March 22, 2021, is a bipartisan bill seeking to strengthen age discrimination protection and make court justice easier for older workers to obtain. The NCOA also supports the Protect Older Job Applicants Act, which seeks to reinforce and expand the rights of older workers. Whether this legislation becomes law remains to be seen; however, there is a refocus on the benefits that hiring older workers bring, not only for the workers themselves but for the market sectors that employ them.
Many older Americans live healthy and productive lives well into their senior years, opting to stay employed as a matter of choice as well as those who do so out of necessity. Drawing from this pool of mature workers can address workers’ shortages and retention problems in senior living facilities and other healthcare sectors. The impetus for those Americans 55 or more who want to work in combination with public-private innovation and updated training could redress labor shortage issues across America.
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