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November 17, 2020

Portrait Of Auto Mechanic Senior Man With Face Mask At Auto Repair Shop

By Daniel Enemark, Senior Economist @danielenemark and Kelly Wilkinson, Program Supervisor
San Diego Workforce Partnership
Except where noted otherwise, data comes from the 2018 American Community Survey, the most recent Census data available as of the time of this publication.

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Not long ago, the world of work was reserved for people ages 16-64 who longingly looked to retirement at age 65. Like nearly every component of the future of work, things have changed.

Many Americans are working well past the traditional retirement age of 65, into their 70s and 80s. Over the coming decade, workers 55 years and older will be the fastest-growing segment of the workforce, gifting our communities with the opportunity to learn and grow from their years of professional experience.

At the San Diego Workforce Partnership, we know that everyone deserves an opportunity to achieve meaningful employment, regardless of age, zip code, background or anything else. By leaving a key talent pool behind we leave valuable skills on the table, which hurts businesses and the economy. 

Who are San Diego County’s Older Workers?

Older workers are individuals 55 years old and above who are employed or seeking work. Older workers make up a large—19%, or about one out of every five workers—and growing portion of San Diego County’s workforce across all sectors.   

Chart of San Diego County workforce by age

Older workers are a diverse group with 68% being women or people of color. About half of older workers in San Diego have no academic degrees beyond a high school diploma. While older workers earn a wide range of income, the most common annual wage range is just $20,000 to $40,000.

Race and gender demographics of older workers
Income among 55–64-year-olds in the labor force

The most common occupations for mature workers in San Diego are low-to-medium-wage jobs:

  • Personal Care Aides
  • Retail Salespersons
  • Office Clerks
  • Janitors
  • Admin Assistants
Chart of most common occupations for older workers

Why are San Diegans working longer?

Older San Diegans remain in the workforce for a variety of reasons. First, San Diegans live longer than the U.S. average.[1] With life expectancy increasing, those who choose to leave the workforce can expect a longer retirement. Yet only half of Americans ages 55 and older have retirement savings.[2] The high cost of living, including housing and medical expenses, contribute to the financial need to continue working. Some older San Diegans stay in the workforce simply for the joy of their work, fulfillment from serving their community, or personal fulfillment they find in being part of a workplace. 

Benefits of Working Longer for Workers and Businesses

There are big benefits beyond economics to people working longer, making the growing proportion of older San Diegans in the workforce good news for both workers and employers. Working later in life is associated with improved physical and mental health,[3] and businesses benefit from multigenerational workforces.

Experience builds expertise and wisdom, and experienced colleagues make good mentors. Older workers bring some of our economy’s most in-demand competencies: essential skills, including dependability, resourcefulness, and communication. Moreover, research shows older workers are as productive[4] or even more productive[5] than younger workers, and may have lower turnover rates as unfortunately real concerns about potential hiring discrimination encourage them to hold on to their existing jobs.

COVID-19 Effects on Older Workers

Older workers were hit hard by the pandemic. Unemployment rates for workers 55 and older exceeded those of mid-career workers for the length of the pandemic—the first time since 1973 that such an unemployment gap has persisted for six months or longer.[6] Unemployed older adults have been rehired more slowly. This leaves older workers with higher unemployment rates, increasing the risk of involuntary retirement and downward mobility in retirement.

The final years of a career are critical for older workers’ livelihoods in retirement, especially for the majority of older workers who do not have sufficient retirement assets and expect to work longer to make up for it. The unequal distribution of unemployment—which has fallen more heavily on women, workers of color and those without college degrees—is likely to exacerbate existing inequalities in retirement preparedness.[7]

Discrimination Against Older Works in the Labor Market 

Although it has been 53 years since the enactment of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, discrimination rooted in negative stereotypes about older adults still hurts their employment prospects. Strong evidence suggests that older working women face especially significant obstacles,[8] and while not much research has addressed the intersection of race and age discrimination, there is evidence that women of color experience the most severe age-based discrimination.[9]

Despite the benefits that older workers bring to the workplace, age-based discrimination in the labor market—in recruitment, assessment, promotion, retention and pay—is holding many older workers back. San Diegans who face multiple forms of discrimination based on their age, gender and race face a uniquely challenging job search, employment and retirement experience.

Applying for Jobs

Some older workers who are suddenly back on the job market may face a hiring process vastly different than the last time they sent out cover letters and resumes. Today, before they cross a hiring manager’s desk, resumes must often get past artificial intelligence evaluation systems. Virtual interviews are expected. For professional jobs, a detailed LinkedIn profile can be essential.

Unemployment does not treat all equally: a study shows that employers stigmatize unemployment among older workers more, so mature workers can find it more difficult to get jobs. Rather than being viewed as a victim of budget cuts, older workers are perceived to be deficient in their skills and abilities.[10] And, as discussed above, the strongest evidence for hiring discrimination is against older women—they are driven out of the workplace earlier than men and have a much more difficult time finding a way back.[11]

Keeping Jobs

Retaining jobs can be uniquely challenging for this population, especially in times of economic downturn. Years of merit raises often mean that older workers make more than younger peers, making them a target for layoffs.[12] When company structure changes and layoffs begin, decades of ladder-climbing and loyalty fall by the wayside. Additionally, ageist stereotypes create downward economic mobility for older workers. False perceptions that older workers are “less productive, flexible, ambitious [and] creative, and harder to train”[13] are also used by employers to justify staffing cuts.

The Workforce Partnership’s Plan for Action

San Diego’s older workers disproportionately utilize career center services compared to other age groups, seeking services to upskill and reenter the labor market. In our funded case management programs, we’ve seen the number of workers 50 and older increase five-fold between fiscal years 2019 and 2020. The growing demand to serve older workers has shifted how the Workforce Partnership designs and implements programming.

In October 2020, the Workforce Partnership launched a pilot program in partnership with the Sahm Family Foundation and the California Workforce Development Board to address the challenges facing older workers in San Diego County.

Over the course of a year, we are offering a recurring schedule of nine job-readiness workshops tailored to job seekers re-entering the workforce with courses including: Career Exploration and Coaching, Resume Reboot, Interview Techniques Refresher, Leveraging LinkedIn and more. For individuals ready to make a move back into the workforce, we are offering paid 150 hour “returnship” employment placements with local employers. The goal of these “returnships” is, in part, to address employer apprehension while also connecting job seekers with sustainable employment opportunities.

Recommendations for Businesses

  • Assess and remove age bias from job descriptions. Assumptions by hiring managers about age, salary expectations, skills and qualifications can result in biased job postings that can discourage older job seekers or even come into conflict with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

  • Participate in age-blind hiring practices. Job applicants aged 40 and above begin to experience age discrimination at the point where their age becomes apparent to the employer. In a study comparing paper applications dropped off in person vs. applications submitted online, older applicants were 68% less likely to be offered a job than younger applicants when applications were dropped off in person. When submitted online, older applicants were selected for job interviews “at equal or higher rates to younger applicants” when their age was unknown.[14]

  • Train recruiters and hiring managers not to discriminate by age. Just as we tackle implicit bias in gender and race, age must be an intentional piece of the conversation when training recruitment teams.

  • Provide flexible scheduling, when possible, to account for older workers who serve as caregivers. According to an AARP survey, 62 percent of older workers who are underemployed based on hours point to caring for an adult or child—caring for their parents, who are living longer, and for their children, who are slower to become financially independent.[15]

  • Incorporate age diversity into your DEI programs. Creating an inclusive, fair and meaningful workplace for all includes valuing and protecting workers of all ages. Also consider that age discrimination intersects with race and particularly gender discrimination.

Recommendations for Workers

  • While employed, invest in your employability. Seek training on transferrable skills, find challenging, visible assignments, network outside of your organization, and set boundaries but leave room to be flexible.[16]

  • If you lose your job, reach out for help immediately. When older workers are laid off, their employment prospects and earnings recovery are significantly higher if they return to work within the first quarter after losing a job.[17] Call (619) 319-WORK (9675) or go to for support on the pathway back to employment.

  • Have clear expectations. Older workers who have enjoyed years of pay raises may need to be willing to take pay cuts.[18] Workers of all ages underestimate how difficult it will be to find a job of equal quality as their latest one.[19]

  • Don’t help employers guess your age. On your resume, remove dates of degrees and remove older work experience if it is less relevant. Apply online rather than in person.[20]

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[1]  National Center for Health Statistics. (2018). U.S. Small-Area Life Expectancy Estimates Project. Data available at

[2]  Jeszeck, C. A., Collins, M. J., Glickman, M., Hoffrey, L., & Grover, S. (2015). Retirement security: Most households approaching retirement have low savings. United States Government Accountability Office.

[3]  Zhan, Y., Wang, M., Liu, S., & Shultz, K. S. (2009). Bridge employment and retirees’ health: A longitudinal investigation. Journal of occupational health psychology14(4), 374.

[4] Sturman, M. C. (2003). Searching for the inverted U-shaped relationship between time and performance: Meta-analyses of the experience/performance, tenure/performance, and age/performance relationships. Journal of management29(5), 609-640.
Börsch-Supan, A., & Weiss, M. (2016). Productivity and age: Evidence from work teams at the assembly line. The Journal of the Economics of Ageing, 7, 30-42.

[5] Ng, T. W., & Feldman, D. C. (2008). The relationship of age to ten dimensions of job performance. Journal of applied psychology93(2), 392.

[6] Davis, O., Fisher, B., Ghilarducci, T., and Radpour, S. (2020). “A First in Nearly 50 Years, Older Workers Face Higher Unemployment than Mid-Career Workers.” Status of Older Workers Report Series. New York, NY. Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School for Social Research.

[7] Morrissey, M., & Sabadish, N. (2013). Retirement Inequality Chartbook. Economic Policy Institute, Washington, DC, http://www. epi. org/publication/retirement-inequalitychartbook.

[8] Duncan, C., & Loretto, W. (2004). Never the right age? Gender and age‐based discrimination in employment. Gender, Work & Organization11(1), 95-115.

Neumark, D., Burn, I., & Button, P. (2019). Is it harder for older workers to find jobs? New and improved evidence from a field experiment. Journal of Political Economy127(2), 922-970.

[9] Collins, T. A., Dumas, T. L., & Moyer, L. P. (2017). Intersecting disadvantages: Race, gender, and age discrimination among attorneys. Social Science Quarterly98(5), 1642-1658.

[10] Karren, R., Karren, R., & Sherman, K. (2012). Layoffs and unemployment discrimination: A new stigma. Journal of Managerial Psychology.

[11] Neumark, D., Burn, I., & Button, P. (2019). Is it harder for older workers to find jobs? New and improved evidence from a field experiment. Journal of Political Economy127(2), 922-970.

[12] Henry, E. G., & Jennings, J. P. (2004). Age discrimination in layoffs: Factors of injustice. Journal of business ethics, 54(3), 217-224.

[13] Roscigno, V. J., Mong, S., Byron, R., & Tester, G. (2007). Age discrimination, social closure and employment. Social Forces, 86(1), 313-334.

[14] Neumark, D. (2020). Age Discrimination in Hiring: Evidence from Age-Blind vs. Non-Age-Blind Hiring Procedures. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. w26623.

[15] Anderson, G. Oscar. Underemployment in Midlife and Older Workers. Washington, DC: AARP Research, January 2020.

[16] Klehe, U. C., Koen, J., & De Pater, I. E. (2012). 17 Ending on the Scrap Heap? The Experience of Job Loss and Job Search Among Older Workers.

[17] O’leary, C. J., & Eberts, R. W. (2007). Reemployment and earnings recovery among older unemployment insurance claimants (No. 07-133). Upjohn Institute Working Paper.

[18] Maestas, N., & Li, X. (2006). Discouraged workers? job search outcomes of older workers. Michigan Retirement Research Center Research Paper No. WP, 133.

[19] Dickerson, A., & Green, F. (2012). Fears and realisations of employment insecurity. Labour Economics19(2), 198-210.

[20] Neumark, D. (2020). Age Discrimination in Hiring: Evidence from Age-Blind vs. Non-Age-Blind Hiring Procedures. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. w26623.

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