Workers are a hot commodity, and one of the most valuable types is the one who left the labor force, according to New York City’s local government.
New York City’s Department of Aging launched the Silver Stars program, which aims to get retirees back in city jobs, and provide an opportunity to earn more money when they may have otherwise been stretching their dollars in retirement, said Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, the department’s commissioner. The department hopes it will be a win-win: The city gets qualified workers, and retirees get another income source.
“They bring a treasure trove of knowledge. They have experiences we need in the workforce. And for the sake of the city, they know how to navigate city operations that others may not have or have a steeper learning curve,” Cortés-Vázquez said. “We wanted to create an opportunity so that the city wouldn’t have a brain drain and at the same time give opportunities for older workers to continue working.”
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The program pairs retirees with city agencies for a part-time project that will last about a year. Workers, who must be retired from a city job and in most cases be a city resident, can earn as much as $35,000 per year—and the new job won’t affect their pensions. After only a month since launch, applications are already rolling in and the program has partnered some retirees with jobs at the fire department and Board of Education, Cortés-Vázquez said.
The Department of Aging is working with the Office of Management and Budget to post positions and pair workers with agencies across the city. It has also worked with human resources administrations across city agencies to train employees on ageism and hiring practices for older workers.
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New York City is not the only place where older workers are being welcomed back with open arms—this trend is playing out nationwide. Governments across the country are looking to find experienced workers, and they’re tapping into the retiree pool. Some companies, such as iRelaunch and reacHIRE, focus entirely on creating re-entry programs for employers, including local governments and agencies.
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Still, finding work when you’re older isn’t always easy. Laws are put in place to thwart ageism, but it’s difficult to pinpoint during the hiring process. Many applicants in their 50s and 60s report challenges when looking for employment, or say they were shut out of jobs during the application and interviewing process.
For example, in one study, researchers created fake job ads with ageist language—such as “must be a fit and energetic person” or “must be a digital native”—for administrative assistants, retail sales and security gourds in 14 cities, and found older workers were less likely to apply for a job than a younger counterpart. In another study, one economist found women under 50 years old were 40% more likely to get called back for an interview than those who were older than 50.
Read: Must be ‘fit and active’ or ‘digital native’: how ageist language keeps older workers out
Contrary to some misconceptions, older people not only want to work, but they’re willing to learn new skills and are as engaged and productive as their younger colleagues, experts say. They also have something to offer those just starting out, or halfway through their careers, Cortés-Vázquez said.
“With a diverse workforce in age you can get innovation,” she said.
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For other older Americans, a job later in life is a financial necessity. Retirees often need multiple sources of retirement income, such as a pension, Social Security and their own savings through the decades—but they don’t always have that.
“All of those add to the financial pressures,” Cortés-Vázquez said. Many people realize too late they may not have enough saved for the future, or when they get to retirement, their assets are dwindling despite potentially having years, or decades, left of life.
Retirement security is “shakier than ever” in the U.S., according to a list of economic think tanks and companies who wrote President Biden a letter last year to address the financial needs of older Americans. The two trust funds that support Social Security’s retirement and disability benefits are expected to run out of money by 2034, at which point beneficiaries would receive a 20% cut to what they’re owed. Not all companies offer retirement plans to their workers, and even if they do, not all employees take advantage of these retirement benefits. Americans are also living longer, and medical expenses rise at an exorbitant rate year after year (especially as one ages).
It’s yet another reason why having employment options are a boon to retirees. “There’s a need to continue working because of the financial insecurity many retirees are now facing,” Cortés-Vázquez said. “They planned for retirement of 15 to 20 years, but medical science and all advancements can make retirement 25 years or more.”
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