Improving workforce programs for older workers

Several years ago the American Association of Retired Persons changed its name to AARP, recognizing the fact that many age 50+ Americans are still active in the workforce. Shifting from traditional policy studies in areas such as health care and pensions, the AARP focuses on public workforce programs in a new policy research initiative, which includes a report by Steve Wandner, David Balducchi, and Upjohn Institute senior economist Chris O’Leary.

Today’s older Americans increasingly rely on income from work well beyond their expected retirement age, and as a result, workers age 50+ have become a much larger proportion of all job seekers, and of those served by public workforce development programs. They are an important component of aggregate labor supply, and they are the only age group with a rising labor force participation rate. But American Job Centers, the government-sponsored hub for job-search services and workforce training, do not have dedicated staff to work with older workers. Furthermore, budget constraints have led the centers to decrease staff-assisted job search supports in favor of automated, self-service, Internet-based systems, which can be a detriment for older workers.

With adequate funding, the centers could either add job search counselors or redirect them to focus on screening, assessment, and job placement for older workers. Evaluations consistently suggest that staff-assisted employment services are cost-effective, particularly for older and displaced workers in urban areas. In other efforts to help older workers find jobs, reemployment strategies could be tried on a demonstration or pilot basis with evaluations. For example, job clubs targeted to workers age 50+ are a promising strategy that should be more widely available and evaluated for effectiveness. And some research suggests that targeted reemployment bonuses could be effective for older unemployment insurance beneficiaries.

In addition to job-search assistance, older workers sometimes need training in new skills. Research shows that, when properly targeted, job training can be effective, and the most successful training ties curricula to locally in-demand skills in high-wage occupations. On-the-job training and customized training directly tap into employer labor demand. Though not required by federal policy, these approaches are emphasized in the new Workforce Investment and Opportunities Act of 2014.

The benefits of workforce development policies for older workers have been understudied, both in observational analyses and field tests of employment programs. By requiring subgroup analyses by age in all program evaluation studies, and by supporting policies and increased funding to improve employment, the U.S. Department of Labor could improve employment services for all jobs seekers, including older workers.


Research Topics: Public Training Programs