I just came across a statistic that made me stop in my tracks. A recent analysis of the Health and Retirement Study, a decades-long project by the National Institute on Aging, found that a mind-boggling 56 percent of workers over the age of 50 are laid off at least once or “leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than choosing to go voluntarily.”
Fifty-six percent. Well over half. If there are currently 40 million Americans age 50 and older in the workforce, that means 22 million of them will experience this kind of setback. Kind of takes your breath away for a moment, doesn’t it?
The report, released by Pro Publica and the think tank Urban Institute, broke it down further. Of these people—who are considered stable, longtime employees—more than a quarter (28 percent) are laid off; 13 percent unexpectedly retire; and an additional 15 percent leave their jobs after reporting that pay, hours, work locations or treatment by supervisors has deteriorated. The joint analysis further found that only one out of 10 of these folks is able to fully recover financially after any of these events.
This news is particularly distressing when you consider that Americans are living longer than ever. According to 2017 data from the CDC, the average life expectancy in America is almost 79 years old. That means some people can expect to live for nearly three full decades after being pushed out of their jobs—ostensibly for being “too old.”
While this situation may seem dire, the rise of remote work may just be the saving grace. Not only does remote work offer older employees the opportunity to work for any company, anywhere — thereby expanding the pool of potential employers and cutting down on physically taxing, time-consuming office commutes — it also bypasses so-called “office politics” (and potential ageism) by putting the emphasis on quality work done in the most efficient way.
Further, companies who lose their over-50 workers are also losing the knowledge and historical data that comes with them. Remote work can keep companies tapped into that much-needed expertise and talent.
The work-from-home revolution is already underway, with a record 8 million people reporting they worked from home in 2017, according to U.S. census data.
Is it possible that remote work can not only fill the over-50 employment void, but also potentially reverse the tide of ageism by demonstrating to companies the incredible value that older workers offer?