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Business

September 16, 2012

Older Americans staying in the fight for jobs

Numbers of those 65 and older working or looking for jobs highest in half a century.


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It's common to see restaurants and retail shops, once the province of young workers, staffed by older workers. And some companies make no secret about wanting them.

"Most of these associates spent much of their lifetime taking care of their own homes," said Stephen Holmes, a spokesman for Home Depot, offering one reason the company hires many seniors for its stores.

Older workers are generally thought to be more expensive for employers — and one might think their growing presence in the job market would tend to lift up overall wage rates. But that's not so, said Harry Holzer, a labor economist at Georgetown University.

"It simply gives employers more options to have them in the labor market longer," Holzer said. "Employers can decide whether or not their higher productivity and good judgment is enough to compensate for their higher earnings, (and) if they are, it makes it easier for employers who don't have to recruit and pay competitive wages."

Without a stronger economy and targeted job programs, Holzer sees few ways of avoiding more short-term pain for younger workers.

Riaz Tejani, a 34-year-old assistant professor at the Phoenix School of Law, sees retired judges, prosecutors and public defenders returning to academia to take teaching positions.

"There's nothing wrong with that because their experience is worth a lot," he said.

At the same time, though, Tejani struggled a little to land a job after he received his law degree and a doctorate in anthropology in 2010. "It did seem to me there is a generation gap in these places," he said of universities in general.

If the Great Recession hadn't struck, Mike Vaupel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., might be considering early retirement from his government job as a meat inspector.

He is 60 years old and already has 34 years of service under his belt, enough to qualify him for an immediate pension equal to about 75 percent of his current pay. What's stopping him? For one, he and his wife own two homes — including one they lease out — and each property has lost about $100,000 in value since 2006.

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