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Underemployment in Midlife and Older Workers

Business Woman in the City

Underemployment can be defined two ways: when a person is working part-time involuntarily or when someone works at a job that does not use their skills and talents. A new AARP study finds that the circumstances that lead to underemployment vary significantly for workers ages 45 and older, and the solutions for helping them must be equally varied.

Among Americans who are working less than 35 hours a week and want to be working more, about 62 percent are limited by personal circumstances such as poor health or caregiving responsibilities, the national poll revealed. In contrast, respondents who are underemployed due to a mismatch between their job and their qualifications often cite factors out of their control, including age discrimination (26%) or low salary (24%).

For both groups, age discrimination came up as a reason for their underemployment. For those in jobs mismatched to their skills, age discrimination was the number one reason cited to explain their underemployment (26% cited it as a reason). Notably, those over age 60 are more likely to report age discrimination as a factor contributing to their underemployment situation than those in their 40s and 50s, regardless of their underemployment type.

 

Americans who are underemployed because of a skill mismatch are significantly more likely to be unsatisfied with their job than those who are underemployed by hours (45% unsatisfied vs. 22% unsatisfied). And just three in ten of those mismatched skill workers say they are in a field that could use their skills.

 

Underemployment is prompting many to search for a new job. AARP discovered nearly half of underemployed workers ages 45+ are job hunting—about 30 percent for a full-time position and 18 percent for an additional part-time job. One in four respondents reports  having been on the market for six months or more. For this underemployed group, online job sites are the top job-search resource (72%), followed by personal connections (46%), social media (34%), and LinkedIn (30%).

Just 25% of underemployed workers surveyed, meanwhile, have tapped the expertise of professionals in their job search. Notably, those who don’t use their full skill set in their work are less likely to have sought professional employment help for their job search than those experiencing low work-hour underemployment.

These AARP survey results suggest that solutions need to recognize the reasons behind the individual’s underemployment and the form it takes. Those who are mismatched in their skills may be the best candidates for help and could benefit from additional training or job search coaching.

The survey was fielded online  August 12–19, 2019, to 750 underemployed adults ages 45+. Respondents were screened for their workforce status and then for underemployment. Quotas were set for age, gender, income, and region. Respondents were weighted to CPS benchmarks for adults 45+ working or looking for work and then readjusted for the final underemployed sample.

For more information, please contact Oscar Anderson at ganderson@aarp.org. For media inquiries, please contact media@aarp.org.

 

Suggested citation:

Anderson, G. Oscar. Underemployment in Midlife and Older Workers. Washington, DC: AARP Research, January 2020. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00344.001