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Laid-Off Baby Boomers Face 20 to 36 Percent Pay Cut at Next Job

It seems the best career move Baby Boomers can make right now is to focus on holding onto the job they have now. A new study by the Urban Institute shows that once Baby Boomers are laid off, their likelihood of finding another job each month is between 18 percent (for women) and 39 percent (for men) lower than for their counterparts age 25-34. And when Boomers age 50-61 do land their next job, their salary is typically 20 percent lower than what they were pulling down at their previous job. For Boomers older than 62, the pay cut after a layoff is nearly 36 percent. By comparison, laid-off Gen Xers (35-49) took a 4.2 percent salary haircut at their next job, while even younger workers had just a 1.5 percent reduction after a layoff.

The Urban Institute study focused on data from 1996-2007 so it doesn't capture data from the Great Recession. But ongoing research from the group suggests the trends persist. For example, researchers found that Baby Boomer men age 50-61 who lost a job between mid-2008 and the end of 2009 were one-third less likely than younger workers to land a job within 12 months. And Boomers who were at least 62 years old when they lost their job were one-half as likely as younger workers to be re-employed within a year.

Here are a few other strategic takeaways for Baby Boomers from the various studies:

  • If you've been on a job for at least 5 years, think twice about making a move. From mid-2008 through the end of 2009, Baby Boomers were actually one-third less likely to lose a job compared to younger workers age 25-34. But a deeper analysis of job-loss trends from 1996-2007 by Urban Institute researchers Richard Johnson and Corina Mommaerts turns up an interesting caveat: Boomer seniority only helped if you'd been on the job for at least 4.6 years. Boomer men with less seniority were in fact 24 percent more likely to get laid off than younger worker with comparable tenure.

If you're itching for a new job in 2011 but you've got seniority, you might want to think twice about giving it up. I am reminded of the Boomer career advice that noted retirement policy expert Alicia Munnell gave MoneyWatch during the depth of the recession: "Suck it up longer."

  • Pay off the mortgage and boost the emergency fund. The current unemployment rate for men age 55-64 is 7.4 percent and for women it's 5.7 percent. While those rates are appreciably lower than the nation's overall 9.4 percent unemployment rate, they have nonetheless doubled since 2007.

And as the earlier statistics point out, if you do find yourself unemployed at an older age, it can take a long time to find a new job. Moreover, when you do get back to work, it may be at a much lower salary. That all strikes me as just more incentive to build an extra-wide moat now to protect your family in the event you have a career setback. Paying off the mortgage once you're in your 50s removes one of your biggest monthly line-item costs. And having an extra-robust emergency fund is insurance against the longer time it takes Boomers to get a new job after a layoff.

  • Save more for retirement while you can. I have to mention this one more time: the UI study found that if you lose a job after the age of 50, your next job may pay 20 percent to 36 percent less than your previous job (and no, it's not because of fewer hours worked; the researchers did an apples-to-apples comparison of full time employees). All of that is a screaming reason to fight the urge to extrapolate your current career and salary too far into the future. Maybe you will keep chugging along and get incremental raises along the way. But maybe not. Older workers invariably overestimate how long they will be able to delay retirement. I read these latest stats as a call to double down on saving more for retirement right now while you can.

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