At the recent “Women of America” panel in Washington, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said “over a half a million new women entered the workforce on [President Trump’s] watch.” While that’s true—the number is 863,000, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)—the numbers don’t tell the full story for midlife women.
As CNN’s Jake Tapper and FactCheck.org observed, the number of women entering the workforce in the past year is actually 34% lower than the number of women entering the workforce during the last two years before the Trump Administration. And, it’s the smallest increase since 2012.
Still, for women over age 55, the unemployment rate was a mere 3.3 percent in September 2017. The catch? Many have settled for jobs that don’t offer the challenge or the pay for which they are qualified. Or, they’ve settled for freelance, contract or part-time work—work that contributes to positive employment numbers, but doesn’t necessarily enable these women to achieve their full potential. As of July 2017, nearly 30 percent of full-time workers in the 55-to-64 demographic were earning less than two-thirds of the median wage for workers in that age range. For women, that percentage is probably much higher.
Fact is, strong national employment trends don’t reflect the reality on the ground for women of age 50 and older. The Great Recession of 2008-2009 left American men and women alike age 50+ facing the largest overall increase in long-term unemployment, the longest spells of joblessness and the least likelihood of finding a job compared to younger workers. Older women continue the greatest consequences of the recession: 60 percent of U.S. women 65 and older have incomes insufficient to cover basic, daily expenses.
Midlife women often struggle to find full-time or part-time work, especially if they’ve taken time off to care for children and/or aging parents. A 2015 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, updated in 2017, found that that older, college-educated women face more discrimination finding work than both younger women and older men—in part because we’re more likely than men to be judged negatively for our appearance. And, half of the age discrimination claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from 2012 to 2016 came from women, even though women comprise a smaller share of the overall labor force than men.
The Great Recession that exacerbated the obstacles many older women already faced. Years later, many were and are still left behind. Before the recession, more jobless men in the 44-to-64 age group were long-term unemployed than jobless women in the same age group. By 2015, the number of long-term unemployed older women had grown more than the number of long-term unemployed older men. That is, finding work has become more difficult for women than the men in the same age group
Despite these gloomy statistics, our workforce numbers are growing. The BLS projects that, by 2024, twice as many women over the age of 55 will be working as 16-to-24-year-olds.
As for how to improve your chances of finding the work that’s right for you, a lot of the advice that applied when you were 25 still applies today. And don’t be shy about looking for help. AARP’s BACK TO WORK 50+ program is one place to start, especially AARP’s Women’s Economic Stability Initiative (WESI). Also check out LearntoBecome’s info about how older workers can change careers, and Workforce50’s resources by state. Also, see this Forbes article about job boards targeting the “over-50” group—in short, don’t bother.