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September 08, 2015

Study: Older folks who want full-time work 'live at the economic margins'

Survey of older part-timers find most are content, but those who want to work more struggle

For Americans who are above a certain age, working full time should hopefully be optional. A new report from Rutgers University, that surveyed a sample of the 7.5 million part-time workers who are age 50 or older, found that, thankfully, the vast majority of them are content to work part time.

But for the 18 percent of older part-time workers who are taking a part-time job only because they can't find the full-time work they want, life can be extremely difficult. These "involuntary" part-timers, as the report called them, are often barely getting by.

“The lives of most of those over 50 who want to work full time are seriously distressed. They live at the economic margins and see little prospect of finding anything better as the clock ticks into old age,” noted Professor Cliff Zukin, who teaches public policy and political science.

One-third of the involuntary part-timers said that their financial situation is poor. Many reported taking on credit card debt or borrowing money from friends, and 22 percent are on food stamps.

Meanwhile, while 80 percent of voluntary part-timers say they are satisfied with their job, only half of the involuntary part-timers report such enthusiasm.

“Part-time work can be a great boon for older workers. Many derive great satisfaction and personal enrichment by working reduced hours toward the later years of their careers," noted Carl Van Horn, the director of Rutger's Center for Workforce Development. "It’s important to remember, however, that millions of older workers need a full-time job to make ends meet."

He said that these workers, while in the minority, find that part-time work brings "frustration, disappointment and financial struggles."

In an interview with Newsworks, Van Horn gave a few reasons why older workers might struggle to find full-time work.

"We've had a recovery, but it hasn't absorbed all these workers," he said. "We also find with older workers, some of them are stigmatized. They've been unemployed, they haven't had a full-time job, they're older, and so some employers don't think that they're up to the task."

What could be done to help older, underemployed workers? The authors of the report floated various ideas to participants in the survey, and these were the most popular proposals:

• 71 percent of older part-time workers said they would like Congress to increase the amount that people who are on Social Security can earn before being taxed

• 62 percent favor increasing the minimum wage

• 67 percent want Congress to require employers to let part-time workers have access to the same 401(k) plans offered to full-time employees.

While the majority of older part-timers are content to work less than 40 hours a week, these policies could help give financial assistance to those who are struggling to make ends meet before retirement.