Is age discrimination stopping seniors from helping to fill Vermont’s workforce shortage?

Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 6:34 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - While employers say they value the experience of mature employees, research shows older people don’t feel welcome in the workforce.

According to 2019 U.S. Census data, 33% of Vermont’s workforce was 65-74 years old. I learned how age discrimination is contributing to the acute labor crisis here in Vermont and nationwide.

AARP recently released a study putting the “Great Resignation” into perspective.

“Our research showed that of those people who retired during the pandemic, 21% of them said they retired earlier than they had planned to because of the pandemic,” said Susan Weinstock, AARP’s vice president of financial resilience programming.

Weinstock says the pandemic may have pushed out older workers because the virus posed a risk or even because employers viewed them as more vulnerable and fragile.

“That institutional knowledge is walking out the door,” she said.

Ironically, it’s that institutional knowledge employers are seeking. The survey revealed three-quarters of employers are placing a greater value on skills over education, skills older workers have solidified over time.

“They communicate well, they’re empathetic, they listen, they’re collaborating, they’re problem-solvers,” Weinstock said.

But she says a record 78% of respondents who are older workers reported they have seen or experienced discrimination in the workplace.

Reporter Christina Guessferd: Tell me a little more about age discrimination-- what that looks like and what that sounds like.

Susan Weinstock: What we hear is employers specifically ask about a person’s age or they will ask about whether you are overqualified.

Despite the feeling of discrimination, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ December data says 43% of Americans 55 years and older who were unemployed for six months or more were looking for a job. So there’s an untapped pool of eligible applicants.

Christina Guessferd: How do you think the economy could really benefit from retirees reentering the workforce?

Susan Weinstock: I mean, we have a huge labor shortage in this country right now. Employers are desperate for workers. They should be thinking about older workers as a great resource to come in and fill those jobs that they need.

Vermont’s data is not nearly as comprehensive. And as witnesses testified in a House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development meeting earlier this month, that’s a huge part of our problem. For example, they say we need refined statistics on what sectors mature workers are interested in pursuing and how employers can target hiring practices and marketing to attract older adults.

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Could retirees help solve Vermont’s workforce shortage?

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