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Working past 70 – what are reasons and tech implications?

Trends come and trends go – but some trends generate their own trends.  No doubt you saw the news that one-fifth of individuals aged 65+ (as officially counted by someone) are still working at least part time -- some past the age of 70.  In fact, this is the highest rate of employment level of older adults in 55 years.  Perhaps this trend is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Apparently 79% of US workers expect to supplement retirement income by working for pay.  Maybe they read about the recent assertion that the definitional age of 'old' is moving up to 73 for women and 70 for men. Are older workers concerned about life expectancy? Do they know that if they live to age 65, life expectancy is anticipated to be 88.8 for women and 86.6 for men? Are they worried about outliving their money (aka plummeting retirement income)? It used to be that older adults feared nursing homes worse than death. That was in 2007.  Now the worry is outliving their money.

But is the percentage of older workers accurate or is it low?  Does that number count self-employment, cash or under-the-table payments for older home care aides?  Housecleaning?  Is that averaged across all regions, including those with significant worker shortages? What about the high percentage who receive social security payments  and work -- with earnings limited to $17K annually for those under 65? Older adults surely read projections that indicate the sharp contraction in income at age 75? They must know that 61% of Social Security beneficiaries receive at least half of their income from Social Security? In short, perhaps the 65+ population asks themselves, why not work? And what is 'retirement’ in a society where fewer have -- or will have -- pensions?

Older adults will adapt to work-mandated technologies.  For the older population, today's world involves finding a job, interacting with other workers, applying for benefits, learning how to be caregivers of ever-older parents, being a slice of the sandwich generation, living and finding housing for as many as four generations.  The older among them may resist optional technology like smartphones – it is amazing how many clamshell phones are out there when you start looking for them.  Tablets no doubt are more pleasant experiences than squinting at miniature quasi-keyboards. 

Technology vendors should be kinder to – even aware of -- older adults. Time to make technology easier to use and adopt a motto -- truly design for all. Time to test the products with a sample of older adults – not just those 29-year-old team members that all think and look the same. Tune up natural language spoken interfaces. Wake up to the possibility of hearing and vision limitations. Work on the definition of what it means for an app to be intuitive. Recognize that there is a shortage of workers across multiple industries and locations. Know that older adults, knowledge, service, and manufacturing workers – are needed and, ahem, valued.  Think outside the box of your cafeteria. Imagine how your robot prototypes could provide near-term assistance to caregivers, many of whom are also older adults.  Now is a good time to sort through population demographics and make products that everyone can use.