The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been showing a steady decline in the unemployment rate, dropping to 4.7% last month. But if you are middle age, there may be small comfort in that improving statistic. Many middle age people who lost stable, well-paying jobs during the recession are still struggling to find solid career ground several years later. Middle age unemployment has become an ongoing problem. There are structural problems in the economy, so you’ll need strategies to overcome what could become permanent or semi-permanent unemployment.
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Why middle age unemployment is tougher
The improving unemployment rate is probably overstating the case on the upside. Gallup reports that the under-employment rate for July 2013 is 17.3%, or slightly more than one out of every six workers. A person is considered under-employed either when they are working part-time but want to work full-time, or working in a job that is well below their career skills (i.e., a person with college degree working in a job that does not require one).
The unemployment/under-employment situation tends to take a heavier toll on the middle-aged. A job lost is often a career lost when you’re in your 40s, especially when you’re in your 50s. Why is that so pronounced in middle age?
Going back to school is usually not a viable option. Going back to school costs money and time, in addition to the fact that the older you are, the shorter the compensation recovery period is on the new career. This is an option for people in their 20s and 30s certainly, but the viability declines as you get older.
You probably have a family to support. When you are in your 40s you’re very likely to have a family to support. Then there are college costs for your kids. And as every parent knows, just because your kids are “emancipated“, doesn’t mean that they cease to be in need of your financial assistance. Translation: you can’t work on the cheap anymore. That cuts job opportunities.
Physical limitations. Most people are in pretty good health in middle age, but there is one undeniable fact that comes with getting older: energy level declines. A lower energy level not only eliminates certain occupations, but it can also make it difficult to launch an entirely new career. When you’re in your 20s and 30s, energy level is never a problem.
Age discrimination. This is an “X Factor” that no one likes to talk about, but it’s very real. I know – age discrimination is illegal – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. An HR person can guess your age fairly easily just by looking at your resume or CV. You can be screened out before you even get an interview.
Strategies to overcome middle age unemployment
What do you do if you’re unemployed, under-employed, or facing the reasonable prospect of either? No matter what situation you’re in, you need to create options.
1. Never settle in! If you have a job, don’t view it as permanent. And if you’re unemployed or under-employed, don’t look at that as permanent either. (You’ll be beaten if you do.) The job market – and the entire economy – are in a state of perpetual flux. Settling in could be a strategic error.
2. Always be prepared to live on less money. Once you get into your 40s you should begin scaling back your lifestyle to prepare (and save) for retirement. That same strategy can come in handy in a career crisis too. The less money you need to live on, the more flexibility you’ll have in a job loss or under-employment situation. By the way, that’s true at any age.
3. View debt like the plague. It’s part of the natural cycle that you borrow money early in life to pay for necessities, like a house or a car, that you cannot afford to pay cash for. But as you move in to middle age, the debt addiction should go away. The dynamics of debt change completely as you get older. There should be a gradual shift from debtor (borrower) to lender (saver) as you move through life. As the employment outlook becomes more complicated, getting out of debt should be an imperative.
4. Save money – no matter what is happening in your life. We have an abysmal savings rate in the US – don’t follow the herd on this one. Have money saved, and keep adding to it regularly. It’s your best short-term defense against income disruptions.
5. Have a health insurance back-up plan. If you are relying upon an employer-sponsored health insurance plan, you’ll need to develop a back-up plan. This can be shifting over to your spouses plan, or getting a part time job with health insurance. This is probably the toughest issue the unemployed and under-employed are dealing with, and though Obamacare promises to address this issue, the bill is so complex that we can’t be certain if it will help or hurt.
6. Stay on top of your health – seriously. Getting affordable health insurance is certainly one reason to maintain good health. But just as important is maintaining a high energy level and the appearance of a person who can get the job done in the eyes of a prospective employer or client. It is also a fact that when you feel better you’re more confident and productive. Don’t let this part of your plan slip!
7. Keep up your networking efforts, both formal and informal. When we get comfortable, it’s natural to let network contacts slip Don’t! People will be your most valuable allies in a time of distress. Keep your networking contacts active, healthy and mutually beneficial – no matter what!
8. Avoid looking for work in the usual places. Everyone is applying for jobs on sites like Monster and CareerBuilder, and that’s the problem. You need to go to new places where the traffic may be lighter. Check out sites like Jobtonic and Indeed.com. Also, don’t be afraid to contact potential employers directly, such as by email, snail mail or even by phone. Personal contact will increase your chances of landing a job exponentially.
9. Start a side business. If I sound like a broken record in the number of times that I make this recommendation on this site, I apologize (OK, not really!). But in my own experience – and that of others who are surviving and thriving in middle age – self-employment is the ultimate solution to a career crisis. If you can work for yourself, you don’t need a job. And at a minimum, even a relatively small income from a side business can provide a sufficient supplement to a low-paying job to give you a fighting chance.
Once again, here’s a list of businesses that lend themselves well to be started as side ventures. You can do them from home, and you can even work them around a full-time job.
- The Perfect Side Hustle: Freelance Blog Writer
- Blogging for Beginners – The Crash Course
- Professional Speaking – Turning a Passion Into a Career
- How to Start Your Own Online Store
- Frugal Entrepreneurs – Start a Consulting Company
It can be vitally important that you start the business before you’ll actually need one. The hobby business that earns you $100-$200 per month now, could be something that you can build into a full-time venture that pays thousands per month upon the loss of a job. Once you get a business going – even at a very low level – it’s usually just a matter of leveraging the business to a higher level.
If you can, middle age unemployment may never be a problem for you, at least not a serious one.
One more thing – don’t dismiss these strategies simply because you’re younger and your career seems to be on solid ground. We’re facing a full-blown employment crisis in America and around the world that affects everyone sooner or later. There may be problems that are more acute as you get older, but the big picture problems affect everyone.
Have you had to face (or are you facing) a career crisis? Have you used any of the above strategies to deal with it?