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Retirees want to go back to work — but they’re worried about this

While more than three in 10 U.S. retirees say they would be motivated to rejoin the workforce if inflation continued to eat into their savings, 43% of retirees see their age as a barrier to getting a new job.

According to an American Staffing Association survey, the fear of ageism poses a barrier to retirees contemplating un-retirement. Overall, 14% of current retirees said they are open to or actively looking for work. 

Read: U.S. gains 315,000 jobs in August. Labor market still strong but shows sign of cooling.

“Ageism has always been a problem and it’s not going away. Even though we have laws to protect against this, human beings haven’t changed. There are misconceptions about older workers,” said Richard Wahlquist, president and chief executive officer of the American Staffing Association, an industry trade group. 

According to 2021 data from AARP, 78% of older workers claimed to have seen or experienced workplace age-related discrimination. That’s the highest level since 2003, when AARP began tracking the data. 

Read: ‘You don’t want to die at your desk sending an email.’ Beyond the numbers, are you ready to retire?

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) makes it illegal to discriminate against workers age 40 and older. A 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, however, made it harder for older workers who have experienced age discrimination to prevail in court. In effect, the court said plaintiffs must meet a higher burden of proof for age discrimination than for other types of discrimination

“It’s disappointing that older workers see age as a potential barrier. People are seizing up and not knowing how to apply. The chief reason is the fear of ageism. And the myths are the older workers cost more, can’t problem-solve, or they can’t learn new things or they’re not as up-to-date on technology. Those, however, are myths,” Wahlquist said.

Some job flexibility might help retirees. More than four-in-10 of retirees would look for a job if they could have a flexible work schedule, and 35% would do so if they could work remotely full-time.

“They’re a mature contributor and they are phenomenal. Companies are looking for reliable, hardworking people and mature contributors bring a plethora of knowledge, a plethora of professional and life experience and they are reliable,” said Holly Lancaster, director of recruiting for KMA Human Resources. “Companies need to change their way of thinking just as much as the mature contributor does. You’re coming back with all this knowledge and companies need that.”

Lancaster suggests older job seekers network as much as possible, work their LinkedIn profile to their advantage and work with a staffing agency or recruiter, if necessary. To get through artificial intelligence resume reviews, maybe highlight the last 15 years of work experience instead of 40 years of jobs, and don’t feel compelled to put graduation dates on a résumé, Lancaster said. 

Read: The latest indignity in job hunting? One way video interviews

“Some companies are afraid of hiring older workers because they want to grow their business and want someone to stay for a long time. But people don’t stay at the same job for 10 or 15 years anymore. They just don’t. So why not hire a mature contributor who wants to stay for five years or three years?” Lancaster said.

Also, advocate for yourself when it comes to salary. Wages for older people often suffer, said Saïd Eastman, chief executive officer of, an online job site.

“No one wants to pay retirees what they’re worth. Businesses are as cheap as cheap can be,” Eastman said. “People are retiring early and they have great skills to offer. Hire them and pay them what they’re worth.” 

Eastman cited outdoor retailer L.L.Bean and grocery chain Market Basket among employers who have notably positive practices of hiring older workers. More than 1,000 other employers have signed the AARP pledge to promote equal opportunity for all workers, regardless of age. 

In addition to inflation, the role of Social Security insurance was also top of mind for many retirees, with 25% saying they’d be motivated to rejoin the workforce if Social Security no longer covered their expenses. A total of 39% of retirees cited Social Security as their main source of income, while 33% cited retirement plans such as 401(k) accounts and pensions.

The issue of retirees weighing job searches comes at a time when there are nearly two job openings per unemployed person in the U.S., according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means businesses are still seeking workers despite a weakening economy and increased inflation. 

Read: Job openings climb to 11.2 million and show U.S. labor market still going strong

“The economy is cyclical. Forget inflation, forget everything else. Hire an older person because it’s the right thing to do. Hire them when they don’t need the job. Hire them for their passion and their interests and that’s how you get the best from them and how retirees flourish most,” Eastman said. 

Learn how to shake up your financial routine at the Best New Ideas in Money Festival on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 in New York. Join Carrie Schwab, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.

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