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Silver Linings: Businesses urged to embrace state's aging workforce

By GRETCHEN M. GROSKY
New Hampshire Union Leader

October 08. 2017 1:33AM
Jim Roche, president of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire, gives a presentation at the Rethinking Retirement panel discussion at St. Anselm College last Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Tom Lenczycki of Manchester was a paramedic who got laid off at a later age.

He decided to go back to school to get more technological know-how, completed an internship, and then sent out 400 resumes to medical providers. He never landed a job.

"I was being discriminated against," the 66-year-old said. "I felt bad. I kept saying, 'Why me?'"

New Hampshire currently has the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the country, while being home to the nation's second highest median age.

But many seniors at a recent AARP New Hampshire summit called "Rethinking Retirement" felt as though getting a job at an older age is still a challenge.

"Why are we still being discriminated against?" Lenczycki said.

The summit brought together experts from around the country to talk about how the state's aging demographic is having a pronounced effect on its workforce and to demonstrate ways for businesses to embrace it.

There is no other choice, the experts said.

In 2004, one in every six New Hampshire workers was 65 or older, and today it's one in every four, said Bruce DeMay, director of the state's Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau.

They are not only working later in life, they are still working as hard as they were before they reached the so-called retirement age of 65.

"People age 65 to 74 are almost as likely to being working full-time as they are to be voluntarily working part-time," DeMay said. "And there's little change at age 75."

The main message of the panelists - an aging workforce is a good thing.

"I don't think enough companies are looking hard enough to hold onto older workers," said Jim Roche, president of the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association. "There is an opportunity for employers across the state to embrace older workers."

DeMay said the number of people participating in the New Hampshire workforce hasn't changed much since 1994.

What has changed is who is in the workforce.

Roche said New Hampshire leads the nation in exporting workers after they finish high school. And between 2010 and 2015, the workforce added 20,000 people 65 or older, DeMay said. New Hampshire now has the third oldest labor participation rate in the country for workers 65 or older. It's in fourth place for workers 55 and older.

DeMay said 45 percent of these workers are found in retail, health and social services, and education jobs.

Bruce DeMay, director of the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security's Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, gives a presentation at the Rethinking Retirement panel discussion at St. Anselm College on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Who costs more?

Andrew Eschtruth, associated director external relations at Boston College's Center for Retirement Research, said he often hears older workers are more expensive than younger ones. He's heard it's better for the economy if older workers get out of the workforce to make room for younger people who add more to the bottom line.

Those are all myths, he said. "The more older workers in the workforce, they put more money into the economy, and that ends up benefitting the younger workforce," Eschtruth said. 

Lori Trawinski, director for AARP Banking and Financing, said it's actually workers of child-bearing age who are more expensive. 

She also said companies who provide time off for someone who has a new child could benefit from offering the same time off for someone caring for an older loved one.

While the workforce may be aging, it's still hard for older workers to find jobs, said Trawinski.

"Age discrimination is still a huge problem," she said. "It's especially hard when people become unemployed or decide to re-enter the workforce."

Eschtruth agreed. 

"We are good at protecting people who are currently working, but not so good for those trying to get back into the workforce," Eschtruth said.

Roche said it's also often hard for employers to bring up idea of things like a phased-in retirement with older workers out of fear of being sued.

Trawinski said there are many good examples of how companies can retain and attract older workers: Cross-generational mentorships. Time off for caring for loved ones. Reduction in hours and responsibilities to keep an older person working instead of just retiring and leaving.

She said these tools can keep older people who bring something vital to companies that younger workers cannot - experience. 

She said companies also need to start looking at their recruiting process through the eyes of an older worker. Something as simple as having photos of only young people on a company's web site can discourage older workers from applying. 

"We have to think differently, and we have to be open to a different kind of conversation," Trawinski said. "If not, you're missing out on opportunities to work better together."

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday news report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire's aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at ggrosky@unionleader.com or (603) 206-7739. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging.

Guest Tom Lenczycki of Manchester, who was laid off from his job as a paramedic late in his career, makes a comment during the forum. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)


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