Thursday, June 2, 2011
According to Gallup, U.S. unemployment presently stands at 9.3%. According to AARP, unemployment is 6.7% for Seniors (people aged 55 and over). Initially, that makes it sound like older workers are doing better than the general population. However, since the recession began in December of 2007, the unemployment rate for Seniors has increased by a factor of 2.09, while unemployment in the general population increased by a factor of 1.86. Furthermore, the average duration of unemployment for Seniors is 53.6 weeks (more than one year) versus 39.4 weeks for the younger unemployed. Additionally, since the beginning of the recession, there has been a dramatic increase in early enrollment for Social Security retirement benefits and spending of retirement savings. For many Seniors, this means risking poverty in their later years.
The stats outlined above should help support the reality of the challenge I’m trying to address here. To take that a step further, I want to augment these cold hard facts with some living breathing human stories. Fittingly, I’ll start with the story I know best … my own.
Let me start by acknowledging my understanding that my age has not been the only factor causing my employment in our new home to be different from what we expected. Certainly, I have my own set of pluses and minuses. Another key factor is that, though I’ve come into this area on business since 1979 and I thought I had a good sense of where I’d fit in, I didn’t have a well developed network of local business contacts. The Portland/Vancouver business community is quite provincial and having such a network is a must. And, since we moved to Southwest Washington in mid-2005, that means we made our move just as the economy was slowing, moving towards the recession that hit fully in 2007.
What I did bring to the table was my professional background in Sales and Sales Management, with technology-based business-to-business systems-solutions. Our employment plan was for me to find a “mid-level” job with Base Pay of at least 60% of that which I’d had in my last corporate position. My Wife, Ruth, who had been in charge of the administrative staff of the Orange County Public Defender’s Office, was only going to work as she wanted to.
Here is a thumbnail sketch of how things have worked out with our Plan versus Actual:
We’ve been in Southwest Washington for about 70 months now. During that time, I’ve had four periods when I was “between jobs”. Especially considering my previous work history, it still astonishes me to note that those periods cover a total of 30 months. Though I won’t bore you with the related stats, without hesitation, I can say that I spent every day of these periods tirelessly leaving no stone unturned in my efforts to secure a job. The yield of those efforts included: a phenomenal number of interviews (with a remarkably high percentage of those having me included in the final round of candidates) and the five jobs I’ve taken. Additionally, due to my employment challenges and the erosion of the investments at the core of our “nest egg”, after a little over two years of “retirement”, we agreed that it was a good idea for Ruth to return to work.
OK, enough of my own story for now. As I said earlier, I understand that my age has not been the only factor effecting my employment since moving to Southwest Washington. To provide a bit more clarity here, I want to share some related specifics from a few other human stories. As I, also, mentioned earlier, one of the other factors that I recognized as negatively impacting my employment expectations in my newly chosen home was that I didn’t have a well developed network of local business contacts. So, as “I spent every day of (my ‘between jobs’) periods tirelessly leaving no stone unturned in my efforts to secure a job”, one key aspect of my efforts was to network my socks off. In doing this, I became well acquainted with many whose experience was not that different from mine. These included:
A President of an apparel manufacturer. After two years of unemployment he accepted a position as VP of Operations for a heavy equipment dealer. That job lasted 1 ½ years. He has returned to consulting, as he looks for his next opportunity.
A CEO of a company providing business training products and services. For three years now, he has returned to consulting, as he looks for his next opportunity.
The General Counsel for a financial services company. He went into private practice for two years while looking for his next opportunity. Now, he is Divisional Counsel for a technology services company.
A Director of Sales and Marketing for a software developer. The four years that have passed since he held that job have included three jobs and three significant periods “between jobs”. Now, he is working as a Manufacturer’s Rep.
A VP of Sales and Marketing for a Fortune 500 company. He was unemployed for most of a year before taking on a role as VP of Sales and Client Services for a small local software services firm. Then, he moved to a job as VP of Sales and Marketing for a local consumer goods manufacturer.
A VP of Client Services for an outplacement firm. The three years since she left that position have included two jobs and two significant periods “between jobs”.
An SVP Worldwide Support and Services for a software developer. Now she is consulting while looking for her next opportunity. This followed two stints as COO for local companies and two times “between jobs”.
A VP of Worldwide Sales for a software developer. The five years since she left that position have held a VP-level job with a marketing research firm, a VP-level job with a nonprofit, a couple of advisory/consulting gigs and several periods “between jobs”.
A President and CEO of a telecom company. For nearly two years he was “between jobs” but got one six-month consulting gig. Now he is employed as a Senior Operations Manger with a nonprofit.
A CEO/President of a beverage wholesaler. Since leaving that job, he has done over seven years of consulting while looking for his next opportunity. Now, he is working as a Manufacturer’s Rep.
A VP Sales and Marketing of a company providing business training products and services. After about 1 ½ years of unemployment, he is launching a new company offering media services for businesses.
A CFO-level person who had been working abroad. He moved back home to be with an ailing parent who has, since, passed away. During over three years “back home”, he managed to get only two months of consulting work. He has returned to a financial role, working abroad, for a U.S. Government agency.
A Director of Sales and Marketing for a corporate continuing education services firm. This was followed by nearly five years that included consulting and looking for his next opportunity plus a 1 ½ year stint as a Sales Manager for a web-based services firm.
A VP of Human Resources for a business and technology consultancy. This was followed by four years of consulting and looking for his next opportunity. Now he is working as a Director of HR for a small local investigation services firm.
Though this may seem like a fairly long list, I can assure you that it is not, by any means, an exhaustive list of those I met in job-networking, whose experiences were similar to mine. It’s not even a complete list of individuals whose experience was like mine, who are also Seniors but that is one thing everyone on this list has in common … they are all Seniors, at least aged 50 plus. Another thing they all have in common is that they are all quality professionals.
Unfortunately, the unemployment/underemployment challenges I’m addressing here haven’t been limited to me and my business contacts. Just this past month, The Columbian published an article entitled Older And Out Of A Job that addresses and evens expands on many of the same issues that I’ve raised in this article. I have no doubt that countless stories, similar to the ones I’ve listed and the ones detailed in The Columbian’s article, can easily be found throughout the U.S.
So, what does this tell us? Obviously, there is a lot of unemployment and underemployment here. Surely, the earnings of this group has been significantly diminished and along with that, the positive impact that this group’s spending has on our economy has, likewise, been diminished. Of course, I don’t know how my diminished earnings experience compares to the folks I’ve listed but here’s how this has played out for us:
As noted earlier, the Target Income of our employment plan for me was a Base Pay of at least 60% of that which I’d had in my last corporate position. My first job came close to matching up with our plan, with Base Pay of about 97% of our Target Income. Job #2 was about 68%, job #3 was about 83% and job #4 was about 67%. I’m choosing to not include the income from my current job in this conversation. I believe I’m in this job because it’s where the Lord wants me for now. If you want to know more about that, you’re welcome to check out an article entitled An “Off-Duty” Grandpa’s Perspective On Autism. Suffice it to say that my leading to be in this job had little to do with what it pays and that a calculation of how its pay stacks up to our Target Income for me yields an outrageously low %. Although a Target Income for Ruth was not included in our original plan, I think it’s appropriate to note that her income is about 44% of her pay from her last corporate position.
Surely, the folks listed above were affected similarly, with income as well as with erosion of the investments at the core of their “nest egg”. And, no doubt, there are people on this list who have found themselves in the position of needing to risk poverty in their later years by enrolling for Social Security retirement benefits early and by spending retirement savings.
So, with all this said, where is this silver lining I’ve alluded to? The answer requires taking a closer look at the folks involved than they seem to have gotten from many prospective employers and matching that up against certain aspects of the current socioeconomic crisis in the U.S.
In taking this closer look, the qualities that I see as being most important to recognize in these individuals are the qualities of their generation … the Baby Boom generation. In my opinion, the greatest overall value Baby Boomers have to offer is what I call a “A Great Wealth of Wisdom.” This generation was lavished, more than any other, with education. Moreover, they were raised by the GI Generation, who instilled them with a great work ethic. That meant, not only did they get a great education, they actually went out and tried to accomplish everything they could with that resource and in the process, grew the resource by honing it with experience to create … “A Great Wealth of Wisdom.” I have no doubt that you would see this reflected in the respective resumes of every individual mentioned in this article.
The aspects of the current socioeconomic crisis in the U.S. that I have in mind for the qualities of the baby boom generation to match up against, generally, fall under the heading of Global Competitiveness. Obviously, just reducing the unemployment/ underemployment of this group and making better utilization of this group’s “Great Wealth of Wisdom” would be a boon to the U.S. But just think about the impact this could have on some of the issues of our Global Competitiveness that are troubling us so much right now. Things like:
Our diminishing ability to compete in the Global Economy because of the continuing decline in the quality of education we’re providing our youth is a common lament. More lamentable is that no solution seems to be getting implemented, generally and it doesn’t seem that anyone is offering a solution that can be implemented in time for the U.S. to maintain its position as the predominant global economic power.
Well, the “Great Wealth of Wisdom” of the Baby Boom generation can match wits with anyone in the world and that resource is available right now. Furthermore, by giving more emphasis to having Baby Boomers mentor younger workers, we can increase growth of this resource and magnify its impact. Finally, aiming this resource at Education Reform in the U.S., can affect an ongoing state of regeneration of this resource. If we don’t take steps like these, if we just go on as we are now, sadly, this invaluable resource will die with the Baby Boom generation.
Lets see, innovations from this generation have included: DNA fingerprinting, the Personal Computer, the World Wide Web, OCR and text-to-speech technology, the Flex-Foot prosthesis, Controlled Drug-release technology, the USB port, Rechargeable batteries, Ethernet, the Cell phone, etc. Any questions?
In addition to Education and Innovation, the other major areas of consideration for determining Global Competitiveness are: Institutions, Infrastructure, Macroeconomic Environment, Goods Market Efficiency, Labor Market Efficiency, Financial Market Development, Technological Readiness, Market Size and Business Sophistication. As I said earlier, obviously, making better utilization of this “Great Wealth of Wisdom” would be a boon to the U.S. I think it’s just as obvious that these other major areas are where the positive impact of unleashing this resource would be most evident.
In order for the silver lining I’ve mentioned to become a reality, the remaining question is: What is the most expedient way to go about unleashing this resource? As you might suspect, I think I can help with this but I don’t think I’m one of those who we should be looking to for the best answers here. I think the Innovators from among the Baby Boom generation itself are those we should look to for this. Innovators like the friend I mentioned at the outset of this article, who has built a very successful business on his abilities as an Innovator/Problem Solver.
In submitting this challenge/opportunity to our nation’s greatest Innovators, I want close by pointing out a few reminders about the group of people who comprise this invaluable resource, this “Great Wealth of Wisdom”:
- These are not necessarily folks who are all on the verge of retiring. Most of the Seniors I know, who are at early Retirement Age for Social Security (62) want to work for another 8 to 10 years. For many of them, the unemployment/ underemployment experience that they’ve had in the past few years has provided further encouragement for them to work well beyond Social Security Retirement Age. And, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Baby Boom went through 1964. These folks are presently aged 47 so they may be looking to work another 25 years or so.
- And, these folks are a great value. If you stop to do the math, you’ll recognize that, with one of my four jobs that I included in this discussion, I was knocking myself out to do the best job I could and I was doing so for about 40% what was once just my Base Pay. Of course, I can’t say that there is a 1:1 comparison between my experience and the experience of others I’ve mentioned in this article but I think it’s a pretty good indicator that the “Great Wealth of Wisdom” I’ve mentioned is presently available at a great bargain.
- Finally, these folks are anything but quitters. With the individuals I’ve mentioned here, just think about the number of new jobs taken on, the “between jobs” efforts, the consultancies, the entrepreneurial attempts, etc. Sure, there has been ample unemployment and underemployment but you didn’t hear much about folks who were just giving up. Of course, the need for income has been a factor in the stories of these people but what’s a more significant factor is that these folks have a burning desire to make the best contribution they can with all they’ve been blessed with. Knowing that, I’m confident that, if they were approached by one of the Innovators I’ve mentioned, to join a newly-formed Silver Lining, Inc., the nearly unanimous response from this group would be like mine, in saying, “Put me in Coach!”