Barriers to Employment for Low-Income Older Adults

Older adults are a growing segment of the US workforce, with many deferring retirement or returning to the workforce in the face of declining retirement security. While many older adults seek new employment to address financial struggles, certain social factors make the job search difficult for low-income older adults. An article in the Journal of Gerontological Social Work reviews the existing research literature to give an overview of the barriers that interfere with low-income older adults who seek employment. One area identified by the authors from the existing literature was stereotyping, such as ageism, both on the part of employers and among older adults who internalize negative opinions about older workers. While a growing number of older adults are returning to work, there has also been an increase in reports of age discrimination. Similarly, reports of race-based discrimination have increased over the last two decades. This negatively impacts the lives of older job seekers from minority racial and ethnic groups, who have often experienced long periods of structural disparities and overt discrimination. Discrimination against people with disabilities also negatively impacts the job searches of many low-income older adults, who have higher rates of functional and physiological impairments than higher-income and younger populations. These factors combine with disparities in community resources, job training, and transit dependency faced by many low-income older adults. Employers with ageist attitudes are less likely to provide training to older workers, for example, and a lack of adequate public transit in many parts of the United States severely impacts the ability of many low-income Americans to travel to work. Factors in the built environment, such as poorly maintained sidewalks or a lack of accessible sidewalks and poorly lit transit routes limit the job prospects of older adults with functional impairments. The authors also identify initiatives that have promoted the employment opportunities of low-income older adults, such as the federal Senior Community Service Employment Program, and initiatives toward designing and building communities using universal design principles, which make the built environment more livable for individuals with functional disabilities. The authors encourage clinicians to take on more of an advocacy role for programs to assist older workers, and advocate research that explores the potential economic benefits of assisting older adults who wish to remain in the workforce.


Anderson KA, Richardson VE, Fields NL, et al. Inclusion or exclusion? Exploring barriers to employment for low-income older adults. Journal of Gerontological Social Work (2013); 56: 318 –334.


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