Yesterday saw the launch of a campaign by three organizations to tackle the issue of unemployment among the over 50s. Those involved are the International Longevity Centre, The Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise (PRIME) and Business In The Community. The start of this was marked by the release of the first of three reports that look at the economic barriers faced by the over 50s in finding work.
The first report (available here) focuses on what they call – interestingly – the ‘missing million’. Based on what these organizations say is a conservative estimate, this refers to the almost 1 million people aged 50-64 who have been forced out of their jobs through factors outside of their control. These are the ‘involuntarily jobless’ who have lost work through a combination of redundancy, ill health or early retirement. I say ‘interesting’ because my research collaborator and co-blogger Katrina and I presented a conference paper this summer with the same title. The difference was, we used the term ‘missing million’ in the context of a particular construction that appeared in our dataset relating to youth unemployment in the UK in November 2011. Perhaps others have noticed the campaigning efficacy of an alliterative label to apply to a jobless group!
And talking of youth unemployment, the press release of the PRIME website (available here) makes specific mention of research showing that if people aged over 50 are helped back into employment, it does not mean that younger people are ‘crowded out ‘of the labour market. So, a welcome change from campaigns that try to pitch one unemployed age group against another.
As reported here in the Daily Record, data from the Office for National Statistics suggests that youth unemployment in Scotland has fallen by 5.6 percentage points in the last year. We have previously blogged about Scotland’s particular focus on youth employment, with a minister with specific responsibility in this area, to the extent of a distinct political commentary about the difference in policies in comparison with the rest of the UK.
The ONS data shows that the number of 16 to 24-year-olds who are unemployed dropped by 29,000 to 72,000 (for the period June to August 2014) which is the lowest level recorded since 2008.
So whilst this is good news, do we have any information about the kind of jobs or other measures that have contributed to this reduction? It seems pertinent to ask given the other stories we’ve covered this week on low pay and marginal work.
In The Courier, Scottish Labour MSP Jenny Marra raised the same point: “It is important that we look beyond the headline figures and ensure that we have a job market that creates stable, well paid and full time jobs for our young workforce. The Scottish Government must ensure that the jobs being created pay the living wage and are not insecure, part time, or zero-hour contracts”. Now, there’s undoubtedly a party political message going on in her statement but it would be interesting to dig a bit deeper to see what’s happening.
According to a report commissioned by CIPD and the John Lewis Partnership, those mostly likely to be stuck in low pay jobs are women, those who are older and those working part time. As outlined here, the report identifies the key factors that determine the likelihood of this outcome.
The low pay trend is something we have seen mentioned in many contexts, most recently yesterday’s Call You and Yours programme which we blogged about. The radio show received accounts of younger workers in their 20s and 30s, some graduates, still only being employed on minimum wage jobs.
This latest report, which was written by Tooley Street Research, defines low pay as those paid at, or up to 20% above, the minimum wage. It points to evidence of a huge increase in the number of people on low pay between the 1990s and 2010s.
In terms of age, they find a strong correlation between age and the chances of being stuck in low pay. Apparently the likelihood of escaping low pay becoming less likely the older you become. A typical person aged 35 is 24 percentage points more likely to escape low pay than a similar person who is 45.
Are you worse off than your parents’ generation? This was the question posed by the BBC Radio 4 programme, Call You and Yours, today.
The starting point for the discussion seemed to be that today’s younger people are worse off than their parents and that this will be a long term lifetime condition. The invitation to participate seemed to be addressed to younger people and only to older people in their capacity as parents – i.e. did they think that their children were worse off than them (as opposed to their own reflections on their position relative to their parents). The question was refined further during the course of the programme to refer expressly to the ‘younger generation’ and to ‘today’s 30 somethings’. Interestingly, one person in his 60s sent a message to the programme to say that his mother in her 90s had always been better off than him!
In addition to callers from the general public, there were invited contributors from two speakers. One was Alan Milburn,the government’s social mobility tsar. He called for a ten year transition to the introduction of a living wage for all, accepting that there are employers who cannot afford to pay this at the moment. He also referenced the rise of the working poor.
The other was Matt Whittaker of the Resolution Foundation who raised the issue of the disappearance of mid range skilled jobs leading to a growing gulf between those in low and high paid jobs. He pointed out that every generation has its own challenges and asked whether a younger generation has had to swap gadgets and travel in place of buying houses and saving for pensions and other things traditionally associated with security.
Most callers expressed the view that younger people are worse off than their parents though a few took the opposite position.
Amongst those who thought the younger generation were worse off, the main themes seemed to be:
- low pay jobs which disadvantage young adults
- a housing crisis (through some very large earners and buy to let putting up prices) lack of affordable housing
- Global competition for jobs and housing
- lack of choice of jobs outside London
- low interest rates making it difficult to save for a deposit
- the trend towards working for free at the start of career
- Blase attitude of employers who view young people as a disposable commodity
- Having to pay for higher education
- The end of the job for life.
Whilst there were stories of help being given between generations of family such as with deposits, moral support and provision of living accommodation there was a sense that generations living together was different and difficult.
The programme asked whether things were different rather than worse. Such differences might be the trend towards having children later, the idea that we deserve ‘fulfilling’ work, the notion of ‘climbing the property ladder’ rather than staying put in a family home.
One call from someone who self-identified as a baby boomer who took a minority view that her children were far better off than her. She said she had never had the chance to save with very limited disposable income. Instead she had given her life to raising her children and now has to wait longer to receive her pension. This caller challenged the idea of generational homogeneity, rejecting the underlying assumption that all people in her generation had it easy. Of course, we agree that this is such a weakness in the notion of generations, that used in this way they can flatten all other potential dimensions of difference such as class and gender.
We couldn’t not cover this story which has received considerable press coverage and extensive online reader comments.
Last week it was reported (for example, as here in The Telegraph) that Apple and Facebook, two of the American tech giants, will pay for female employees to freeze their eggs as another ‘work perk’. The rationale is said to be that women can then continue to work through their twenties and thirties without stopping for a few months to have a child and so inevitably fall behind their male counterparts.
Now, we have blogged several times before on the gendered and age norms of Silicon Valley companies whose staff profiles suggest that men are favoured over women (as mentioned here in The Independent) and youth over older age (as here in The New Statesman). This announcement however has caused many commentators to unpack some of the implicit assumptions behind such a move. These include:
- that women need to be treated differently from men;
- that delaying children is professional beneficial for women (but not men) because young adulthood is only time which counts in getting ahead in an IT/tech career;
- that it marks a rather sinister interest in women’s bodies by their employers; and
- that the decision to have children can be put off until female employees are too old to be of any use (at which point their gender is irrelevant).
One reader comment here in The Guardian put the alternative: Why not ‘let women have children when they want them – without it harming their careers? If they really cared that much, they’d make their companies sufficiently flexible to welcome back talented women… and not make them feel pressured to devote everything to their careers and freeze their eggs’. And why not make it so that jobs and career advancement are not only linked to performance in young adulthood?
Earlier this week an Australian TV show was under fire for asking “name something people think is a woman’s job”, and reported here in the Sydney Morning Herald, widely criticized for counting as correct answers that included cooking, washing clothes, cleaning, nursing, doing the dishes, hairdressing and domestic duties.
Yet stereotypes about generational categories continue unabated and often with very little reaction. Here for example is an article about ‘differences’ in work-life balance in the Huffington Post. This includes broad statements such as “international travel is also important to Millennials” and “Millennials are also happiest in the workplace when they feel they are part of a team”.
Now obviously there is a difference in the tone of this article and the aforementioned quiz but the generalization and stereotyping going on here might not be that different. Not least because of what these statements infer about either other generational groups OR about the limitations of the particular group under consideration.
Here is another example, from “Chief Learning Officer” Magazine: “Millennials have unique characteristics — just as every generation does. They were the first generation born with technology; it is like breathing air to them. As a result, they are able to easily adapt to and apply new technologies”.
As regular readers will know, we at Age at Work would contest the simplistic representation of ‘unique characteristics’ which here are presented as overriding other factors such as individual personality. The generalization of this group as ‘naturally’ technologically skilled not only underplays the education process but also effectively rules out this ‘talent’ as being possessed by other groups.
Both the theoretical basis of generations (especially the means by which key events are believed to produce key psychological differences in group members) AND the empirical evidence of such differences is hotly debated. Yet time and time again we see the promotion of generations as a means of understanding differences at work, often conflated with chronological or other definitions of age.
As Deal and colleagues concluded in 2010 findings regarding millennials are ‘confusing at best and contradictory at worst’ (2010, p. 191)
(Deal, J.J., Altman, D.G., & Rogelberg, S.G. (2010). Millennials at Work: What We Know and What We Need to Do (If Anything). Journal of Business and Psychology, 25, 191-199.)
With falling unemployment in the UK we perhaps risk becoming complacent about the global challenge of youth unemployment. This piece by Richard Jones for Devex, provides a very useful summary of both the issues and recent initiatives on the international stage. Highlighting the “dangerous cocktail of high unemployment, precarious and low-quality temporary work, and persistently high working poverty in both the developed and developing world” Richard provides an introduction to the work of RTI on youth employment and the ongoing efforts on the International Labour Organization who have continually campaigned for more attention to this issue. There is an ongoing debate about the need for both immediate action (particularly in some countries) and the requirement for long-term sustainable approaches. These concerns are of course echoed across many different aspects of the international development agenda and it remains to be seen if the work on youth unemployment can be one of the first to make real inroads to the problems and real difference across the world.
Here’s one especially for my co-blogger Rebecca! We are frequently reporting on ‘top tips’ advice for older job applicants and here is another one from the Business Insider. However this is the first one that has had me screaming ‘noooooo’ at the screen. Why? Because Number 4 on the list of five is as follows:
4. Double spacing after periods (fullstops)
“I am going to go out a limb and declare that putting two spaces after a period is obsolete,” Miller explains. “It is how most of us were taught to type on a typewriter. Therefore, most of us who do this (I have taught myself to stop putting two spaces after a period and it was hard) are over 50 years of age.”
Miller says he has heard that this has been used as a method of screening out older candidates.
Yes this is going out on a limb! I have always argued and will continue to that ‘correct’ format is two spaces after a full stop AND shock horror I am not over 50. This is a slight bone of contention between Rebecca and myself when we write together – though so far I believe I have managed to win that particular battle!
On a different note there was a ripple on Twitter yesterday when Unum issues a report on key trends for the future workplace with a rather interesting graphic and identifying four trends: the ageless workforce, the mindful workforce, the intuitive workforce and the collaborative workforce. Truth be told there didn’t seem to be much of an evidence base for their ideas, and certainly not one which drew on academic research. It was also written in rather poor marketing speak providing soundbites such as: “The ageless workforce enables ‘returnment’ instead of ‘retirement’ and enables people to work forever”. Yes they really did say “forever”, firmly stating that this is what employees want. However in this happily every after story that’s OK because it will be a “zenergetic workplace” (no I did not make that up).
The more detailed section on the ‘Ageless Workplace’ focused almost exclusively on older workers and suggested that “the workplace is becoming increasingly ageless because employees no longer see age as a factor in work ability”. Reports of age discrimination by both younger and older workers would seem to highlight that the problem might be that EMPLOYERS don’t share this view. A few pages on the report offers an “ageless workplace toolkit” which is in fact a list of ten bullet points.
As for the methodology, interviews with 9 experts and a survey of 1000 workers in a select number of sectors does not really support the claims that are put forward. Not sure what they were aiming for here but I can’t help but think they missed the mark.
Two stories caught my eye this morning.
Firstly the independent suggests that “isolation and loneliness await growing number of men” in retirement because of the lack of contact with family and friends. Particularly focusing on men over 50 who lived alone the article suggests that organisations must do more to help in retirement and identify opportunities to provide support which “could have the potential to keep older men socially connected in post-work life”.
The independent article also suggests a trend of men living longer and outliving their partners is starting to impact their experiences of later life. This is interesting when set against the statistics reported in the Daily Mail and Telegraph today which both highlight ONS figures suggesting that “women are less likely to outlive men as workplace takes it toll” (in the Telegraph) and that the” stress of a career is harming women’s health” (Daily Mail). These articles highlight that male health and life expectancy are improving with factors such as reduced smoking and improved health and safety at work cited as significant factors. However as more women work for longer so the gaps between male and female life expectancy is falling (now an average of 3.8 years) though this is set against overall increases for both genders.
While there are many lifestyle issues at play here both stories feature a significant discussion about the impact of our working lives on later life. To find out more you can read the full report of the ONS review of mortality statistics over the last 50 years on their website.
While not an article that headlines age issues, this piece from NBC entitled “Highly Educated, Unemployed and Tumbling down the ladder“, features personal stories of those over 40 who are struggling with long-term unemployment. Many of the cases that are featured have returned to study later in life (to complete an MBA for example) and are also struggling with student debts while worrying about funding their children’s college education.
It is not always easy to feel sympathy for all those covered – having two houses and complaining about cash flow is a quite a difficult sell. Though as the article points out these individuals often had ‘further to fall’ and increased financial liabilities that they often (according to the stories reported) didn’t really seem to face up to straight away)
But a common theme is those who find themselves job hunting after many years of a career on an upward trajectory is hard to avoid. And at that point it seems difficult not to conclude that age discrimination is a key factor.
In the article, an interviewee called Gomez says “I have been applying and looking for pretty much anything at this stage…I applied to a supermarket as a deli clerk because I used to be a deli clerk as a teenager,”. He was told he was overqualified and turned down.
The article highlights that in looking for entry and lower management jobs than they previously held those “tumbling down the ladder” bump up against those on the way up who are typically at least ten years longer and without a period of unemployment on their CV.
As one interviewee says of taking minimum wage and temporary jobs as a result of being unable to find a permanent position : “I probably won’t retire. I probably will be working until the end the way things look now”.