Now would seem like a great time to be looking for work. Job openings hit a record 10.9 million this summer — the highest figure since the Labor Department started tracking that number two decades ago. Is it time for you to return to work or maybe even look for a different job?
Kenneth Moore, 67, would say yes. The Chico, California, resident is an independent contractor with Amazon Flex, driving his 2018 Ford Fusion car to deliver packages whenever he wants to pick up a route from the online retailer. Moore says the part-time work — he puts in about 24 hours per week — is flexible and fun, and he’s lost 20 pounds since starting the gig in late June. Moore worked in heavy construction before retiring two years ago, but he found the pace of retirement was too slow, prompting him to take the Amazon position. “I like the idea of having something to do,” says Moore, adding that he didn’t want a job with set hours. “It’s like being your own boss.”
But despite the broad demand for workers throughout the U.S. economy right now, older Americans still face challenges getting the jobs they want. “Even when workers are scarce, many employers are reluctant to hire older workers,” says Richard W. Johnson, director of the Urban Institute’s Program on Retirement Policy. “They worry that older workers’ skills are out of date, that they are too expensive and that they will retire soon.”
Then there’s the continued coronavirus threat. “Older job hunters are worried about COVID,” says Eva Pagan, who enrolls job seekers in her role as assistant project director of AARP Foundation Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) in Orlando, Florida. Their top choice is clerical work, she says: “As long as they don’t have to be with customers or have many people around, then those are the jobs they’re looking for.”
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Jobs are in stores
Though you might have misgivings about customer contact, that is where many of the jobs are — between 1 million and 2 million openings apiece in health care, hotels and restaurants, and retail. If you are vaccinated, healthy and willing to carefully follow hygiene protocols to keep yourself and others protected, then “a lot of my members are very, very eager to have conversations with older workers with a ton of experience,” says Edwin Egee, vice president for government relations and workforce development at the National Retail Federation.
A quarter of retail workers are over 55, and 8 percent are 65-plus, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With the abundance of jobs, landing one could be as simple as visiting a store you like and asking if they are hiring. Currently available retail and hospitality jobs aren’t just holiday-related, Egee says. “The workforce shortage is not going away soon.”
Or if you’d rather be getting out and about, the demand is heavy for school-bus drivers. Such part-time work often appeals to older people who like the daytime hours — and who have a commercial driver’s license.
There's more money
Increased demand for workers is driving up wages. Large employers such as Walmart, Amazon and Target have announced higher starting hourly pay for their workers, and they’re not alone. As of August, hourly pay for frontline workers was up 5 percent year over year — not only in retail, but also in manufacturing, transportation and warehousing. In leisure and hospitality (think restaurants and hotels), pay was up 13 percent.
Terms may be flexible
You may have more bargaining power than you think, allowing you to tell a staff-starved employer exactly how many hours you want to work. Worried about standing for an eight-hour shift in a retail job? Employers are willing to find reasonable accommodations, Egee says.
Still, there can be stumbling blocks. A retail job may not be feasible if you’d have to work nights or weekends and you rely on public transportation, says Shawn Willuski, manager of AARP Foundation SCSEP’s region in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Oklahoma. The flexibility of gig work — such as with Uber Eats, DoorDash and Instacart — might seem enticing, but the downside is that there is no guarantee of a minimum number of hours of work each week, Willuski notes.
Office jobs exist, too
Many employers want to hire for a project with a specified time period or on a temporary basis, which can be a fit for older workers who don’t need the job security or health care benefits that a younger worker desires, says Art Koff, founder of the RetiredBrains website. He advises searching on LinkedIn and other job boards for temporary and project-based positions. Municipal government is another area to explore; for example, there’s a great need for 911 dispatchers. And be sure to follow the news for leads: Amazon said in September it would hire 55,000 people in corporate and tech positions, a 20 percent increase in those areas.
Jobs are online
Finding an opening can be as easy as putting the type of work and your city into a jobs site like Indeed or Monster. The AARP Job Board lets you filter search results to find companies participating in AARP’s Employer Pledge Program, indicating that they are committed to hiring people 50 and older. Veterans can conduct a similar search for companies keen to hire those with military service.
At the same time, don’t underestimate the power of your contacts and the benefits of word of mouth for finding an opening. “A lot of the ways we go about looking for a job have changed, but what hasn’t changed is the value of having a strong network,” Willuski says.
Employment help from AARP and others
Take free courses in using the Microsoft Office suite and get discounts on many other classes designed to help you operate in today’s workplace. “That will be helpful to people who want to transition, maybe from a retail position or a restaurant position to an office job,” says Susan Weinstock, vice president for financial resilience programming at AARP.
Watch videos from AARP’s recent virtual employment event and tap other resources useful for the job market.
Get part-time employment and training that may lead to full-time employment. Subsidized by the Department of Labor and operated by AARP Foundation and other organizations, the program is targeted at unemployed, low-income people 55 and older.