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Many Older Americans Are Stuck in 'Bad Jobs'

An economist says the drop in unemployment hasn’t lifted their fortunes

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Phil Leo/Michael Denora/Getty Images

Many older workers remain mired in low-paying or unstable jobs.

The unemployment rate for Americans age 55 and older was just 3 percent in April, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. But there’s a disturbing dark side to the job picture: Many older workers remain mired in low-paying or unstable jobs, according to labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci. 

Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School in New York, tracked employment data from 2005 to 2015. Of the 6.6 million jobs for older workers created during that decade, 52 percent were what she calls “bad jobs.” Twenty-eight percent had regular hours but were paid less than $15,000 a year, or two-thirds of the median wage. Another 24 percent were on call, temporary or gig positions, with uncertain hours and income.  

Just 23 percent of new positions were traditional jobs with good pay, she found. Another 25 percent were independent contractor arrangements. 

Those conditions persist, she said. “Many 55-plus workers are stuck in low-paying and unstable jobs because they lost their career jobs and took pay cuts in new ones,” Ghilarducci wrote in an email. Some may live in smaller cities or rural areas where the economy isn’t doing as well. Others don’t have the right skills for higher-paying positions that are available, and employers often aren’t willing to provide them with the necessary training. Age discrimination also plays a role, she said.

Ghilarducci said that older workers who want to get out of bad jobs may need to make drastic changes, such as moving to another part of the country. She also advised upgrading their qualifications by taking online courses to acquire technological skills.

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