Educating employers to the value and the cost of employing aging workers

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Educating employers to the value — as well as the costs — of employing aging workers has been the main focus of the “Aging Workforce” series. The figures have told of growing numbers of workers over the age of 40 and the difficulties many of them face after downsizing, military separation or simply trying to make a career change.

The CSBJ has discussed discrimination, drawbacks and benefits of both younger and older workers, and the statistics about Baby Boomers. We now focus our cost discussion on healthcare and our jobless discussion on “what if?”

Costs: healthcare reality

One drawback Chamber of Commerce President Will Temby sees for the aging workforce is the employer’s unwillingness to provide adequate health insurance coverage for a worker and his or her family. If health insurance costs rise — and statistics show that it will —an employer must look at hiring someone who may not be in as great a need of health insurance.

Tisha Dowe, health officer and medical director for the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment, is concerned that continued rising healthcare costs will deter more and more employers from hiring workers over the age of 50.

“There are concerns about the cost because it does cost quite a bit more to provide care for an older worker,” said Dowe. “When managed care people are looking at the cost, the lowest cost is the 21- to 39-year-old age group. If you are over 50, you have a lot more healthcare costs and that is putting a strain on the system. When (employers) have an aging workforce they are covering, their costs can be much higher.”

The average annual healthcare costs paid out by insurance companies for the 18- to 39-year-olds is about $1,000 per year, she said. The cost for 40 to 49 year olds is about $1,500 per year while 50 to 59 years old cost nearly $3,000 per year. Healthcare costs for people in the 60 to 64 age bracket is about $4,500 and those who are 65 and older average $6,000 annually.

The average payment for medications paid out by insurance companies for 18 to 29-year-olds is $150 per year. People in the 30 to 39 age bracket will cost about $200 per year while 40- to 49-year-olds cost $375 per year. People who are between the ages of 50 to 59 will toll about $700 per year in insurance costs, 60 to 64 year olds will run $600 per year and those over the age of 65 will cost insurance companies, on average, about $700 per year.

“It is a tremendous problem as baby boomers are getting to that age,” said Dowe. “It’s a large portion of healthcare cost insurance going up in the workforce because we have an aging workforce.”

The younger age group job-hops a lot, she added. They have more options available to them. But an older worker is typically more stable in the community and less likely to move from job to job. This would reduce the cost of rehiring, retraining and “getting them up to speed.”

What if?: an increase in homelessness

Some people don’t have the financial backing or the personality to start their own business, said Paul, our 61-year-old worker who is having a tough time getting a job despite having a masters degree, teaching certificates and a strong military background. Perhaps their transferable skills are not in great demand. Or the applicant doesn’t fit the image the company is looking for. Maybe working for minimum wage isn’t worth the effort. How does that person pay his or her bills?

Paul believes they become homeless. Statistics are showing an increasing number of older homeless people staying in overnight shelters.

Since the beginning of this year, Ann Carlisle, executive director of the American Red Cross Pikes Peak Chapter has witnessed an increase of visitors age 55 and older. The percentage is small, she added, but significant.

“I think that as jobs become more scarce and the competition increases, those things typically happen,” said Carlisle. The older population is more at risk in an economic downturn as are some younger people who have recently graduated from high school but realize that they have no skills to contribute to an employer. Its’ tough in an economy like this because (employers) are not hiring (or) want some experience – and some kids don’t have it.”

Where young people sometimes have friends and family to take them in while they gain necessary skills, many older workers with mortgages and car payments can’t simply move back in with mom and dad. Some, who started families late in life suddenly find that they can’t support their children, much less their children’s college education.

Paul said, “Without my wife and her paycheck, I’m dead meat.”

Probably not “dead” but maybe homeless.

During the past two months, Carlisle has seen an increase of 55-year-olds to nearly 28 percent of those staying in the shelter, compared to May 2000 when the number was about 23 percent.

The local Red Cross shelter usually houses about 190 people each night. However, the last six weeks have packed the facility to its 230-person capacity. That number does not increase as the temperature decreases because many homeless people “take a vacation in the summertime” and travel to places such as Colorado. When the weather turns and they realize they do not have the skills to fill job openings or cannot find affordable housing, they leave the area at the end of the summer, said Carlisle.

Combining the old with the new

“No matter what your business is, you want to surround yourself with the best possible people,” said Temby. “From my perspective … I see a lot of value in people who have done a lot, seen a lot, understand the value of teamwork. (They have) skill sets that involves many experiences. I have always targeted a much more mature workforce relative to some of the key positions.”

“The workforce today is different and CEOs have to make tough decisions,” said Lynne Pelz, vice president of communications and public relations for the Chamber. “It’s not necessarily fair, but it’s the rules of today. The younger generation has new ways of thinking. That’s important … creativity … a fresh perspective. When you partner the old with the new, you really get an incredible product.”