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Older workers should play to their strengths

When the Big Bust hit in 2008, several of my friends were sweating the envelope. The envelope held their latest investment statements and they dreaded opening it the way they had once dreaded the post-Christmas Visa bill. Me? I was smug.

When the Big Bust hit in 2008, several of my friends were sweating the envelope. The envelope held their latest investment statements and they dreaded opening it the way they had once dreaded the post-Christmas Visa bill.

Me? I was smug. No investments, therefore no fear. I was on an even keel - no poorer or richer than ever before.

The flip side, of course, is that I hadn't prepared for my future. That meant I was likely to be earning my keep long after my friends' RRSPs had recovered and they were jetting off to extended vacations in Croatia.

That's a tad simplistic, of course. Not everyone bounced back after the crash.

Figures indicate that when the derivative-driven dust had settled, Canada's private pension funds had lost more than 21 per cent of their value. For those affected, visions of a rich and fruitful post-work period dissipated. They set their alarm clocks once more and began hunting for new jobs. Many experienced a rude awakening - emphasis on the word rude.

Some didn't make it to the interview process because they were seen as over-qualified. Others were hired but exploited, demeaned and humiliated.

They found themselves in part-time or temporary jobs. Or they were forced to accept far less than they were worth.

Half the older workers who returned to work after the big recession of 2008 saw their salaries drop by 25 per cent.

My earning power was hit hard, too, but I'm not complaining. I'm lucky that I can bring home the necessary bacon at my advanced age. With a keyboard and a few well-honed brain cells, I manage to earn a respectable living.

But for many Canadians in their 50s and 60s who still need to work, finding or keeping gainful employment is an ever-increasing challenge. Don't take my word for it. Those are the conclusions of a recently released report commissioned by the Canadian Association of Retired People (CARP).

If you're in our bulging cohort and you have a job, chances are you are clutching onto it. Statistics show that older Canadians are staying in the labour force longer than ever before.

Since 2000, there has been an 11 per cent uptick in the rate of citizens aged 65 to 70 who are earning salaries or are selfemployed. That's a reversal of previous trends, especially for men.

Yet one-third of workers in that age bracket are "low wage," according to CARP. (The report doesn't specify what "low wage" means.)

Even those who are well paid can find themselves in a nasty trap. I have a friend with a re-mortgaged house who is desperate to retire because her workplace has become foul and brutal.

Recently hired younger people take these conditions as a matter of course, she says. So her bosses seem to suggest that if she can't keep up, she knows where the door is.

The bottom line, says CARP, is that "the right to work and remain engaged is under threat for many older Canadians."

Entrenched ageism pressures seniors out of the workforce "despite the benefits of their experience, skills and contributions to society."

The report goes on to say that "Many older workers feel - their contributions are unvalued by employers."

Reality is harsh and Darwin rules. Survival of the fittest is the order of the day. Those of us who do require an income to pay the daily freight have to coldly assess the marketplace and make all the right moves.

Some are resorting to plastic surgery. One Vancouver doctor reports that up to 60 per cent of his patients between the ages of 40 and 60 seek cosmetic treatments for work-related reasons. It gives the term job cuts a whole new meaning.

That's a little drastic, in my book. Yes - it's important to polish up the skills. But face it. We'll never be as nimble at social media as those who come after us. Better to play to our strengths. And that would be our considerable experience. Surely there are those still inclined to benefit.

rharrisadler@hotmail.com

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