- Working in retirement has been difficult for many Americans like Liz Landa, 62, who searched for work for two years after being laid off from a job.
- Now living in Saratoga Springs, New York, she has found it hard to find work, and feels that her age worked against her in getting hired.
- Like many older Americans, she has a chronic condition which makes the demands of a job difficult, so she turned to self-employment to bring in money in retirement.
- Read more personal finance coverage.
Liz Landa worked from home running a successful screen printing business for 25 years. Her husband commuted to a comfortable, six-figure job in New York City from their home north of the city in Rhinebeck.
In their 50s, they decided to move to help raise their granddaughter in Clifton Park, New York, just north of Albany. They downsized and moved into an apartment in Clifton Park, and her husband took a pay cut to work in their new city.
“A couple of months later I said, ‘I’m going to have to go back to work because we just can’t make it,'” Landa told Business Insider. Then, about a year after they moved to the apartment, Landa’s husband was fired from his job.
She ended up looking for work at age 57, and got an offer at a local marketing firm about 30 minutes away from where they lived. They moved again to live closer to her job in Saratoga Springs, but it lasted just two years. “As good as the job was, they wound up closing that facility,” said Landa. She ended up back at home.
“I tried for two years to get a job,” she said. “We went through every single penny we had. We went through our savings, IRAs, and cashed out our pension plans.”
“At the time I was having some neurological problems, and eventually went on permanent disability,” she continued. “We wound up having $16 at one point in our checking account.”
Landa’s husband found it difficult to find work in his older years, and ended up taking Social Security at age 62. Landa wasn’t yet old enough to qualify.
And in her own experience, too, it was next to impossible to get hired. “I thought at 57 years old, I wouldn’t have a problem getting a job. But I did,” she said.
Landa felt that despite her experience, people didn’t want to hire her because of her age. “Here I am, 60 years old, trying to get a job,” she said. “They look at you like, ‘Are you kidding me?'”
Older Americans have a harder time getting hired
Steve Dacus, who retired early at 62 due to health issues after a 42-year career in sales for a plumbing supply company, previously told Business Insider that he had a similar experience.
“I thought I was going to be able to sit down and do my songwriting and take a little time to breathe, because I’ve always worked hard all my life,” Dacus said. But he found it incredibly difficult to get and keep work in his older years, even at places like call centers. After health problems landed him in the hospital, making him unable to go into work, he lost the jobs he’d managed to find, and he’s now stopped searching for work.
Research from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco concludes that, “discrimination makes it harder for older individuals, especially women, to get hired into new jobs.” The researchers found that after crafting and sending job applications, “relative to the young applicants, older female applicants for administrative jobs had a 47% lower callback rate.”
Another study by ProPublica and Washington think tank Urban Institute shows that older people are more likely to be put out of work and fall into a financially devastating situation, as Landa experienced with her job at the marketing firm. Since 1992, data followed a sample of about 20,000 people over age 50. Within that sample, the researchers found that 56% of those people were laid off at least once or were pushed out of work.
While Landa’s layoff came when her facility closed, the impact was the same: The ProPublica and Urban Institute study also found that older Americans are less likely than younger colleagues to ever recover from the financial devastation of a job loss.
Disabilities also impact older Americans’ ability to work
But, even when older Americans intend to work, many of them find it difficult to actually do it. An AARP survey showed that over half of people over age 35 in 2016 plan to work in retirement.
However, the employment rate among people 65 and up is about 20%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The physical demands that come with working are harder on older workers, especially those working in physically demanding industries and careers. For older Americans living with disabilities and chronic conditions, traditional jobs don’t work.
“I’m not going to work at McDonald’s. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I can’t stand that long,” says Landa.
But even when applying for desk jobs, Landa felt that potential employers were judging her ability for the simplest of physical demands. “It was a doctor’s office, and I had a job interview there. He was wondering if I could bend down to get file folders.”
“It was because I’m old, you know,” Landa continued, laughing.
Today, people may be working longer in part because the age to claim Social Security has gone up from 65 to 67 since the year 2000, and in part because they’re not financially prepared for retirement. Planning to work in retirement is a risky move. While many, like Landa, plan to work, it doesn’t always work out.
Landa has since stopped looking for work. Instead, she has joined a number of older people in being self-employed in retirement and is currently writing a series of children’s books. According to Business Insider’s Tanza Loudenback, about 30% of people over age 55 had done some freelance work in 2018.
“I’d love to go back to work, just to get out in the workforce,” said Landa. “But, nothing’s come around and I’m concentrating on the books.”