Over 50 and Underemployed…Are Unemployment Numbers Skewed?

From a macro economic point of view it’s hard to argue with unemployment statistics when they go below 4% and when it is proclaimed to be the best in over a decade, historic lows, etc. With any good set of statistics there are numbers within the numbers that tell different stories. Compensation has gotten a lot of attention as a stagnant worry in the good news of jobs and those issues are well documented. What hasn’t seemed to be a point of concern is that there is a major difference between unemployed, under-employed and forced self-employment, particularly for professionals over 50 years old.

I grew up in a time as a kid where the expression, “Don’t trust anyone over 30” echoed the generation wars and mistrust of the older establishment. We have also seen recessions in the late 1970s and early 80s leave newly unemployed 40+ year-olds feeling old and over-qualified and unable to replace their once growing salaries. Booms and bubbles that followed, along with social changes, made 50 the new 40, whatever that really meant. Conversely, the technology explosion created a new generation gap where your 16 year old nephew could be regarded as more technically sophisticated than most of the executive class.

Following the economic crashes of 2008-2009 major employers, corporations, did what they always do, reduce costs with a major focus on cutting jobs, high paying jobs in particular. Having started a training and consulting business almost concurrent with that crash I coached many displaced, talented professionals finding a new path to take care of their families and reshape their success strategy. Today, many of those former corporate middle and upper management folks are part of the small business economy, particularly in industries transformed by the digital age. Scores started their own businesses, formed partnerships, or took leadership positions in a redefined career strategy. Some cashed out early and survive on their earned past proceeds, a project here and there, some re-entered corporate power positions. The majority toil in a new micro economy where their vast experiences are less useful, their new needed skills underdeveloped, and their compensation a shadow of their past peek.

Maybe it is a fallacy to think that earning ever was, or should be, a growth line that, while it may flatten in time, is near it’s peak when a gold watch is presented for retirement at 65 with a party and a transition to new happy and reflective golden years filled with bucket lists and grandchildren. Maybe because the same generation is making the cliches we’re now told that 70 is the new 60. It would seem as we age we are staying healthier, more active, more ambitious. Many families started later, or restarted with second acts. Is this economic transition a happy reality or a frustration and disappointment for those whose pay chart is a bell curve, far from their plateau projections and hopes?

Economies are moved by major forces and like swimmers can’t change the force of the waves, they need to learn to swim through them and survive their energy. Next time you hear about how low our unemployment is, surely celebrate what is good for our collective economy, but consider how many professional people lost their chance to utilize their hard-earned wisdom to propel success and have their compensation follow their growing value.

Perhaps business is more like sports and it’s not practical to believe we can peak in age over youth. Older players learn to contribute off the bench, take less money, or acknowledge their diminishing skills and find new challenges and new opportunities. For every former power player who is closer to Social Security than their graduation, and is in a new paradigm not only is it possible to reshape what success means, it is clearly possible to learn new skills, get trained in their gaps and find satisfaction in professional accomplishment and compensation.

Change is the only thing we can be sure will occur. Whatever perspective you have on the economy and unemployment and statistics it all really comes down to how you feel about yourself. That’s not going to be captured in any economic indicator but it is something everyone who was something professionally “good” can still become something great and they get to decide what that looks like, and how it pays.

©2018 MyEureka Solutions LLC. For more BUSINESS THERAPY insights follow Tom @TomFoxTrainer, on LinkedIn or at www.myeurekasolutions.com/thoughts.


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