A teacher and student

COVID: The Challenge for Older Workers

In anticipation of rambunctious children returning to the classroom in the fall, older teachers are sounding alarms about how challenging it will be to make the schools safe for themselves, as well as the children and families.

Their fears about going back to work in a pandemic are shared by older workers around the country with chronic conditions, which increase the mortality rate for people who contract COVID-19.

Workers who cannot work remotleyMore than half of U.S. workers who are between ages 55 and 64 are in jobs that can’t be done remotely, a new study estimates. Their flexibility to work at home isn’t much different than younger adults.

But older Americans who are weighing whether to return to work face a dilemma that is of less concern to young, healthy workers.

The older workers must choose between “health risks – returning to work before the virus is under control – or economic risks – delaying work until the environment is safe, which may exhaust their resources,” concluded researchers at the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog.

Jobs that can’t be performed at home were identified in the study by 14 specific tasks, ranging from interacting with the public and handling machinery to rarely using email and standing or walking for most of the workday.

By linking information about jobs to individuals in a national survey, the researchers reported on the ability to work remotely based on the characteristics of the workers themselves. They found that women, who often gravitate to jobs that give them more flexibility or the ability to work part-time, are more likely to be in jobs they can do at home – think about travel agents (85 percent are women) and freelance writers (67 percent).

The analysis also confirmed something the media have reported anecdotally: working remotely is a perk of being a well-paid professional. About six in 10 workers in the highest earnings bracket can do their jobs at home, compared with just over three out of 10 workers in the lowest two earnings brackets. …Learn More

Art of people at a job interview

Virus Complicates Boomers’ Job Searches

As laid-off baby boomers venture into the job market in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they may sense it will be tough to find a position because, well, they’re too old.

New research indicates this suspicion is spot-on.

Discrimination is notoriously difficult to corroborate in academic studies. But researchers in Belgium, using a well-designed experiment conducted prior to the pandemic, found that company hiring managers working in 30 developed countries, including the United States, were much less likely to ask older job applicants to even come in for an interview.

The reason? They were perceived as having “lower technological skill, flexibility, and trainability levels,” the study concluded.

But there’s a big disconnect between this evidence of discrimination and a different report, based on a 2019 telephone survey, that employers view workers over age 55 as being at least – and sometimes more – productive than their younger colleagues. This survey also found that older workers are perceived more positively if the hiring manager is older. The findings provide some hope that, as the population ages, baby boomers who want to continue their careers may be able to do so.

However, even the authors of this study acknowledge two issues facing boomers. First, even when employers say they have positive perceptions of older workers, this posture “does not necessarily correspond with employer behavior.”

Second, given older workers’ underlying health conditions, COVID-19 is a wild card that could “adversely affect” their job prospects.

In any case, older job hunters will inevitably encounter some recruiters who will hold age against them. To overcome preconceived notions about older workers, the study of discriminatory recruiters provided some practical tips, based on the findings. …Learn More

Nursing home sign

How COVID-19 Spreads in Nursing Homes

The coronavirus has pulled back the curtain on longstanding problems in nursing homes. In 2014, the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had reported that more than one in five seniors in skilled nursing facilities experienced “adverse events.” These included poor medical care, patient neglect, and inadequate infection control, which frequently sent residents to the hospital.

Now, some nursing homes have become COVID-19 hotspots. This has contributed to disproportionate numbers of deaths among people over age 70, who may also have weakened immune systems that make them more susceptible to the virus or underlying medical conditions that increase their mortality rate.  

Anthony Chicotel, a staff attorney with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, discussed what he’s seen in nursing homes in the months since the pandemic began.  

Briefly, Tony, name the big three underlying problems you feel caused the virus to spread. 

Chicotel: No. 1 is chronic understaffing to meet the needs of the residents and to perform all the basic functions required every day. No. 2 would be a tolerance for poor infection control practices. This flows from No. 1 because good infection control requires time, and it’s one of the things that gets cut when you’re pressed for time. No. 3 might be the practice of staff working in multiple facilities. Because they are often low-paid, it’s not unusual for them to work for two different companies that do nursing home care, or they might also work for an assisted living provider. This cross-pollination contributes to the spread of the virus among facilities. We’ve also learned that most of the staff who had the coronavirus have been asymptomatic.

The problems in nursing homes are not new?

Chicotel: I think we should’ve anticipated this. Coronavirus has brought all this out into the open but the Centers for Disease Control cites a a pre-pandemic study that found that up to 388,000 nursing home residents die each year resulting from poor control of infections such as Methicillin-resistant bacteria (MRSA) and urinary tract and respiratory infections. We’ve just accepted this staggering breakdown of infection control for a long time. I’m an advocate, and it wasn’t something I really focused on either. It’s been begging to be addressed in a significant way for some time.

Talk about infection control. In this pandemic, everyone is aware that hand washing is critical to stopping the virus. You cited a report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that 36 percent of long-term care facilities do not comply with hand-washing protocols and 25 percent do not comply with protocols for personal protective equipment (PPE).  Learn More

Art work of the words Happy Retirement?

Retirement is Liberating – and Hard Work

Most baby boomers find the first weeks of retirement liberating. But it takes some work to ensure the feeling lasts.

“Almost everyone is just thrilled with the first days of retirement, and the big thing is: ‘I do not have to set my alarm,’ ” said Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile. Eventually, another thought dawns on a new retiree: “I don’t want to turn into one of those people who sits around in their jammies half the day. I need more of a routine.”

That’s when they start investigating what they’ll do with their time, said Amabile, who, with a team of researchers, interviewed 83 older professionals during their pre- or post-retirement years (or both) to understand the transformation from worker to retiree.

For a smooth transition, the planning should start well before leaving your job, as you process the question of how and when to retire. A critical part of the retirement decision is making sure you can afford it. But the psychological preparation is just as important.

This work, which boils down to four essential tasks, can take several years before and after the retirement date to complete. The first task – the decision to retire – was covered in last Thursday’s blog. Here are the remaining three:

Detach from work. Some people already have one foot in retirement while they’re still working. This can happen organically as an older worker starts to feel marginalized, or it can be a self-directed detachment as he or she becomes psychologically more distant in preparation for leaving. Amabile said completing the process of detaching from work can take weeks or years after retirement day. …Learn More

Art work of the words Happy Retirement?

Mapping Out a Fulfilling Retirement

One might say that baby boomers on the cusp of retiring come in two varieties. Some cannot wait to retire and already have a plan. For others, the unknowns fill them with dread.

How will I occupy my days? Should I do something meaningful, or is the goal just to have fun? And how do I figure this out? At 62, this writer really has no idea.

For the other boomers who are feeling this way, take some comfort in knowing you are in good company.

“I can’t say this strongly enough. There are some people who seem to literally not think about what their retirement might look like before they retire,” says Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile, whose research team interviewed 83 professionals in their pre- or post-retirement years (or both) to study how they navigate the transition years.

A big part of retiring is letting go of what can be a strong identification with work, and people are reluctant to give that up, she said. This identity might be attached to one’s profession – doctor, professor, carpenter – or to an employer, a specific experiment, or the team on your current project. For others, identity is tied to being the family breadwinner. For many people entering retirement, the basis of that identity is “profoundly shaken,” Amabile said.

Of course, not everyone confronts an identity crisis. Older people who are eager to start a new chapter of their life or are simply burned out by work may find that it’s liberating to shed that old identity and move on.

But, according to Amabile, a more arduous process is common. Many older workers begin to realize, “My identity as a person and my work are really bound up together, so I need to work through that.” A crucial part of planning for retirement is determining “what life is going to be like without work, because work structures your life,” she said.

Amabile described the problems one couple in the study encountered because they didn’t have a solid plan. After retiring, they moved out of the community they’d lived in for 25 years and relocated near some family members. But two years later, they still hadn’t settled comfortably into their new life and “felt at loose ends all the time,” she said.

To prevent this from happening to you, consider that boomers typically must go through four tasks as they transition to a satisfying retirement; Amabile and her team members – Lotte Bailyn, Douglas Hall, Kathy Kram, Marcy Crary, and Jeff Steiner – saw these four tasks in many of their interviews with baby boomers.

The tasks – described below and in a follow-up blog – don’t have to happen in any particular order, though the most common sequence is: Decide to retire. Detach from work. Explore a new life structure. Consolidate a new life structure. …Learn More

Art of a light bulb

Electric Bills and Financial Survival

Timing is everything for low-income people who rely on federal benefits to survive.

For example, retirees who receive their Social Security checks early in the month and spend the money before the bills come in are more prone to fill the gap with high-cost payday loans than people who get their checks a few weeks later, a 2018 study found. New research in a similar vein shows that timing also matters for individuals who receive food aid under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

SNAP program logoWhen the electricity bill arrives on or within a day of the monthly SNAP benefit, the lowest-income customers in this study were much less likely to have a past due bill or to have their power cut off than customers whose bills arrive well after their benefits.

The timing is crucial, because SNAP supplies between 10 percent and 25 percent of household incomes up to 35 percent above the federal poverty level. When the government loads each month’s food benefit onto the card, it frees up money for high-priority bills coming due at the same time, including utilities.

This study took place in an unidentified New England state where recipients’ SNAP debit cards are refilled on the first day of every month.

After following the SNAP recipients for a full year, the researchers also found that the unpaid balances they had accumulated after 12 months were smaller if the bills coincided with the SNAP-card deposits. The advantages of a well-timed electricity bill were greatest in the poorest neighborhoods, the researchers said. …
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Photo of a suburban house

Most Older Americans Age in their Homes

Retirees are apparently unpersuaded that it’s a good idea to convert their substantial home equity into some retirement income.

One way to tap this home equity is through state programs that defer older homeowners’ property taxes. The programs are offered in many states, but very few people take advantage of them. Retirees are also skeptical about the benefits of converting their equity into income using a federally insured reverse mortgage: only about 50,000 older homeowners, on average, get them every year.

A big concern is that if they ever sell the house, the back taxes or the reverse mortgage must be paid back – with interest.

But a new study by the Center for Retirement Research finds that this is an unlikely scenario for the majority of retirees, because they rarely move or don’t move at all.

The researchers constructed a picture of how Americans’ living situations change between their 50s and the end of their lives by combining the data for two separate age groups. They matched the households in one group, who were between age 50 and 78, with similar but much older households in the second group and then followed the second group through most of their 90s.

The researchers found that 53 percent of this constructed sample of homeowners never moved out of the house they owned when they were in their early 50s.

Another 17 percent relocated around the time they were retiring and then generally stayed put. Although the households in this group tended to be more educated and better off financially than the people who never moved, both groups ended up with substantially more housing wealth than the people who moved frequently. …Learn More