July 22, 2017

Shortcuts: Unemployed and Older, and Facing a Jobless Future

She wonders how to support him in his continued quest to find a job in his field of marketing and financial services while at the same time encouraging him to think about what his life would be like if he never worked in that field or had a full-time job again.

“I wanted to move to what I thought was a healthier place. I wanted to turn the page,” said my friend, who asked to be identified by her middle name, Shelley, since she didn’t want to publicize her family’s situation. “He saw it as vote of no confidence.”

For those over 50 and unemployed, the statistics are grim. While unemployment rates for Americans nearing retirement are lower than for young people who are recently out of school, once out of a job, older workers have a much harder time finding work. Over the last year, according to the Department of Labor, the average duration of unemployment for older people was 53 weeks, compared with 19 weeks for teenagers.

There are numerous reasons — older workers have been hit both by the recession and globalization. They’re more likely to have been laid off from industries that are downsizing, and since their salaries tend to be higher than those of younger workers, they’re attractive targets if layoffs are needed.

Even as they do all the things they’re told to do — network, improve those computer skills, find a new passion and turn it into a job — many struggle with the question of whether their working life as they once knew it is essentially over.

This is something professionals who work with and research the older unemployed say needs to be addressed better than it is now. Helping people figure out how to cope with a future that may not include work, while at the same time encouraging them in their job searches, is a difficult balance, said Nadya Fouad, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Psychologists and others who counsel this cohort need to help them face the grief of losing a job, and also to understand that jobs and job-hunting are far different now from how they used to be.

“The contract used to be, ‘I am a loyal employee and you are a loyal employer. I promise to work for you my entire career and you train, promote, give benefits and a pension when I retire.’ Now you can’t count on any of that,” she said. “The onus is all on the employee to have a portfolio of skills that can be transferable.”

People in their 20s and 30s know that they need to market themselves and always be on the lookout for better opportunities, she said, something that may seem foreign to those in their 50s and 60s.

If a counselor or psychologist “doesn’t understand how the world of work has changed, they’re not helping at all,” she said. “You can’t just talk about how it feels.”

In response to this concern, Professor Fouad and her colleagues have drawn up guidelines for the American Psychological Association to help psychotherapists better assist their clients with workplace issues and unemployment. It is wending its way through the association’s committees.

Of course, not everyone who is unemployed and over 50 is equal. For some, the reality is that they need to find another job – any job – to survive. Others have resources that can allow them to spend more time looking for a job that might have the salary or status of their former position.

In the first case, Professor Fouad said, “You need to decide what is the minimum amount of money you can make and how to go about finding it.” In the second case, she said, it’s necessary to examine what work means to you and how that may have to change.

Is it the high social status? The identity? The relationship with co-workers?

It is important to examine these areas, perhaps with the help of a professional counselor, Professor Fouad said, to discover how to find such meaning or relationships in other areas of life.

Sometimes simply changing the way you look at your situation can help.

E-mail: shortcuts@nytimes.com

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/27/your-money/unemployed-and-older-and-facing-a-jobless-future.html?partner=rss&emc=rss