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Tough getting a job after 55

MICHIGANBy Becky McKendry
Capital News Service

LANSING — If you’re 55 or older and hunting for a job, good luck. Michigan is one of the worst states for your employment prospects.

Governing Magazine recently reported data showing nationwide employment-to-population ratios, a common economic measure of what proportion of a state’s eligible working-age population is employed.

Michigan is the third worst in the nation for older workers, at 32.3 percent of residents 55 and older employed.

The report suggested a link between stronger agricultural economies and better employment ratios for older workers. Nebraska has the highest ratio, at 49 percent.

That isn’t the case in Michigan, however, says Jeremy Nagel,  the Michigan Farm Bureau.

“That notion just runs contrary to where our state’s agricultural economy is right now,” he said. “We’re incredibly prosperous right now.”

Agriculture is Michigan’s second largest industry, making up almost one-fourth of the state’s jobs, according to the MFB.

Additionally, the average age of a Michigan farmer is 56 years old, suggesting agriculture contributes favorably to the employment ratio of older workers.

“The biggest part of the story is that the whole Michigan labor market is struggling,” said Charles Ballard, economist at Michigan State University. “We’re still a full percentage point above the national unemployment rate … at 7.8 percent.”

The second part of the story, Ballard said, is older workers make up a demographic that’s especially vulnerable when the overall economy struggles.

“If you lose a job at 59 or 62, what are you going to do?” he asked. “The notion of going back to college or retraining for a new job makes sense when you’re in your 30s or 40s, but not six years away from when you planned to retire.”

Ballard also said the decline of Michigan manufacturing left many older workers out in the cold. When workers in their 50s and 60s found themselves jobless with only manufacturing skills, many were eligible to withdraw from their 401Ks or IRAs, or even qualify for Social Security — even when they didn’t want to leave the job market just yet.

The Michigan Shifting Gears state program is meant to aid older job seekers, especially those who seek to transition into a new career.  Although the job market can be discouraging, there’s plenty of talent to spare among older workers, said Rhonda Pierce, program manager.

“This is a generation with commitment and loyalty,” she said. “Employers can benefit from that kind of … wisdom.”

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