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Although there is debate about the meaning of The Who’s classic song “Baba O’Riley” (often referred to as “Teenage Wasteland”), for many of us the words conjure up visions of disenchanted young people with altered mind states.  But while young people are often on the radar screen for signs of depression and life imbalance, there is another group—with its own set of raging hormone and changing-body issues—who needs watching. And just as they may have more weight, wear, and wrinkles, “Midlifers” increasingly appear to have their own anxiety, angst and job issues.  Given the aging population, recognizing and managing this new reality will be critical to maintaining a healthy society.

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Although there is debate about the meaning of The Who’s classic song “Baba O’Riley” (often referred to as “Teenage Wasteland”), for many of us the words conjure up visions of disenchanted young people with altered mind states.  But while young people are often on the radar screen for signs of depression and life imbalance, there is another group—with its own set of raging hormone and changing-body issues—who needs watching. And just as they may have more weight, wear, and wrinkles, “Midlifers” increasingly appear to have their own anxiety, angst and job issues.  Given the aging population, recognizing and managing this new reality will be critical to maintaining a healthy society.

“Out here in the field…”

You’re going to have to fight for your meal if you’re a Midlifer.

If you Google “getting a job after 40,” you get 236,000,000 results; search “getting a job after 50,” and that number rises to 536,000,000[1].  And in tech, you might be looking at a Logan’s Run scenario:

If you work in Silicon Valley, you’ll be unemployed in middle age . . . What used to be a meritocracy has become a don’t-hire-anyone-over-30 situation (certainly not over 40).
— Columnist Ted Rall, “Don’t Hire Anyone Over 30: Ageism in Silicon Valley”

“Before We Get Much Older…”

We’re there. The average US worker is a midlifer:

  • As of 2012, the median age in the US was 37.3 years, and average life expectancy reached a record high of 78.8 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).[2]
  • However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that in 2014, the average US worker was 42.4 years old.
  • Further, with the aging of the Baby Boom generation, 25.6% of the workforce is projected to be 55-plus by 2022, up from 20.9% in 2012 and 14.3% in 2002.[3]
  • And, if you reach 65 years of age, your average expected lifespan is 85.5 years for women and 82.9 years for men.

Hence, the reality is that if more than 50% of the working population is, or is soon to be, among “midlife/older” contingent, all employers will likely need to be involved in helping employees balance work and life challenges in a more sustainable fashion.

“The Exodus Is Here…”? 

Seems like it—especially if you’re 45-49.

In a 2014 AARP survey, [4]  64% of respondents reported age discrimination, and 25% had lost a job within the five years ending 2012.  Job loss rates were highest among those aged 45-49 years, at 31%, followed by 24% for ages 50-59.  Other noteworthy results were:

Ages 45-49Ages 50-59Ages 60-74
Caretaker responsibilities75%59%43%
Real/expected absence or job departure to care for aging relative27%22%12%
Need to work for income92%83%69%
Rely on work for healthcare benefits60%64%37%

“They’re All Wasted…”

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), antidepressant use among Americans was up 400% between 2005-08 from the six-year period between 1988 and 1994.  The NCHS also estimated that 10% of Americans are on some kind of antidepressant (it’s the third most commonly prescribed medication); and 23% of US women in their 40s and 50s take antidepressants.[5]  Further, the US suicide rate is the highest in 25 years,[6] and according to the CDC, suicide has been increasing dramatically in the middle-aged (ages 35-64 years) in the US, up 28.4% between 1999 and 2010—27.3% for men; 31.5% for women.[7]

Interestingly, the BLS reports that 1999 was the point at which women reached their peak labor force participation at 60%, a rate that has declined ever since.[8]

Despite women aged 55-64 having the highest growth rate in suicides (~52.5-59.7%), the absolute number of suicides among men is more than three times higher, with growth rates up 35.2% for men aged 45-49 years, and up 49.4% and 47.8% for men aged 50-54 and 55-59, respectively.[9]

Given growth trends in the aging population, and the estimated $44.6 billion annual cost in medical and work-related expenses due to suicides in 2013 alone,[10] we need to reevaluate how we handle the well-being and productivity of human capital.

“Take My Hand…” 

Looking at the “top 100 Companies to Work for,” one has to ask—for whom? It does not appear to be the “average employee,” who is likely almost 43 years old.

If you’re 43 and work at Google—ranked by Forbes as the #1 company in the U.S. to work for six years running—you’d be a “Greygler,” the company’s cute name for workers over 40.[11] Indeed, the criteria qualifying a business to be labeled among “the best companies to work for” appear to be those more attractive to the younger set.  Several companies on the Fortune list do offer things like compressed work weeks, paid sabbaticals or onsite medical facilities, but there was only one company, Genentech, offering all seven of the benefit metrics, as well as same-sex benefits, etc.[12]

But there is some light beginning to shine amongst all this gray!

Some contend that things are actually looking brighter for the grayer set.[13] With companies like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Barclays and Encore.org offering older workers “returnship” or “fellowship” programs, specifically designed to retrain and entice older workers back into the work force, we should continue to see improvements here. And might not more organizations be encouraged to start similar programs if we looked at average employee age across a broader spectrum of companies?  Why not tailor company benefits more appropriately? If the average age of our population and workforce is soon going to be 40-45 years, why reward companies only employing people under 30, 40, or 50?  It is not just about protecting older workers, but about greater transparency into companies’ abilities to manage resources, something investors want to know about. If we already watch “good company” diversity/benefit metrics, shouldn’t we watch the one metric that impacts all of us—age?

“Don’t Cry…”

But do open your eyes pretty soon…

Because the original members of The Who are now in their 70s or dead, and nobody’s getting any younger. Whether it be through added time off, mental health counseling, or hiring “De Niro-esque” older interns to save the day, companies will have to shift attitudes in terms of how they treat older workers, or be faced with an extremely costly “Midlife Wasteland.”

 

[1] http://time.com/money/3725034/jobs-older-workers-improved/

[2] http://www.thewire.com/technology/2010/06/is-google-age-ist/19485/

[3] http://fortune.com/best-companies/genentech-9/

[4] Google Search, October 6, 2015

[5] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/10/08/us-life-expectancy-hits-record-high/16874039/

[6] http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2013/article/labor-force-projections-to-2022

[7] http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/general/2014/Staying-Ahead-of-the-Curve-2013-The-Work-and-
Career-Study-AARP-res-gen.pdf

[8] http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/astounding-increase-in-antidepressant-use-by-americans-201110203624

[9] http://www.usnews.com/news/newsgram/articles/2014/10/08/us-suicides-hit-highest-rate-in-25-years

[10] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6217a1.htm#tab1

[11] http://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/cps/womenlaborforce_2013.pdf

[12] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6217a1.htm#tab1

[13] http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide_factsheet-a.pdf

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Cindy Motz has more than 15 years’ equity research, financial analysis and investment banking experience in the wireless and wireline telecoms, utilities, energy/ cleantech and biotech/healthcare areas.