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Why It’s So Significantly More Dangerous to Get Laid Off in Your 50s (And How to Stay Employable In Your 50s and Beyond)
Financial Planning
11 min to read

Why It’s So Significantly More Dangerous to Get Laid Off in Your 50s (And How to Stay Employable In Your 50s and Beyond)

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While some companies struggle to hire enough staff, others are laying off their workers at a record pace. In January 2023, American businesses laid off over 100,000 workers, the highest number since the 2020 pandemic.

Layoffs are painful for anyone, but they can be devastating if you’re over 50. While older generations often possess more expertise and experience than their younger counterparts, it’s hard to find industries or businesses eager to hire those from earlier generations.

If you’re over 50 and have recently been laid off, you’re not alone. According to a recent report from ProPublica and The Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank, 56% of Americans over 50 are pushed out of their jobs before retiring. Considering how many people are laid off over 50, it might be smart for younger individuals to even think about readjusting what year they think they are going to retire from the government issued year of 67 to a much more conservative number around the age of 58. Putting this year as a safeguard to when one might retire might become challenging when it comes to attaining the amount of assets necessary to physically retire, but it will hedge a person against the rocky roads that they may be facing in their later years of their working lives.

The following discussion can help you make sense of your current experience and offer some guidance on how to face an uncertain future with confidence.

Alex’s Story (A Mid-50 Year Old Man Who Was Recently Laid Off)

Alex’s Story (A Mid-50 Year Old Man Who Was Recently Laid Off)

No one wants to admit that ageism is a major dynamic in the American workplace, but many people have an experience that proves it is.

For example, take Alex, whose real name has been changed to protect his identity. He was laid off in his mid-50s, sparking a lengthy job search. In fact, the search lasted so long that he was forced to move in with his daughter, who, in turn, helped Alex obtain government assistance.

During his job search, Alex routinely found himself surrounded by other applicants in their 30s and 40s, which made him stand out by comparison. When he finally landed a job, the pay was less than he’d have preferred, and his employers often treated him poorly.

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The Dangers of Ageism

The Dangers of Ageism

Does Alex’s story sound familiar?

According to a survey from the AARP, 80 percent of older Americans report that they’ve experienced age discrimination in the workplace. The unemployment rates testify to this reality. The survey notes that 36 percent of Americans over 55 had been looking for a job for 27 weeks or longer, compared to 23 percent of Americans under 54.

Though ageism is illegal, these numbers reveal just how difficult it can be for older Americans to find work after their 40s. These numbers also explain why it’s more dangerous to experience a layoff at 50 than at 40 or younger.

“My mother was laid off from the small business where she worked in her late 50s,” says Leonard Kim of AdvisorCheck. When she was laid off, she was able to find a lot of job opportunities in the Korean newspaper. However, in interviews, she would be told by the interviewer about how she was too old to work for their companies and while being able to interview at many places, she was unable to land a job. Much like how ‘Alex’ had to go back to living with his daughter, my mom had to move back in with me, and I had to take care of her as she wasn’t able to earn an income. When my former wife and I decided to get married, my wife wanted for us to live on our own, so I had to cover the rent for her place as we covered the rent for our place. She also didn’t have a retirement account setup, nor was she at the age to qualify for social security income benefits, so most of her expenses had to be covered by me,” Leonard continued.  

Here are some of the reasons layoffs can be even more challenging as you get older.

You Have Fewer Marketable Skills

While older adults bring considerable experience to the table, they often lack the technological skills today’s employers are looking for.

These days, many companies rely on integrative, cloud-based solutions to maximize their efficiency. However, older Americans are less likely to use the internet or a smartphone than their younger counterparts, which can put them at a disadvantage in today’s data-driven workplace.

You’re Overqualified for Entry-Level Positions

In some ways, your work experience can be seen as a negative, at least from the employer’s perspective.

In all likelihood, you’re grossly overqualified for the kinds of entry-level positions companies struggle to fill. As a result, it can be harder to get your foot in the door. If you finally get hired, you may experience a significant pay cut or get stuck at the bottom of the corporate ladder.

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Your Retirement Account Is Dwindling

More than half of American workers are behind in their retirement savings. If you’re in your 50s, you’re unlikely to have enough money saved to retire early, which gives you all the more reason to get back into the workplace. And with inflation on the rise, Americans are looking to increase their retirement savings by as much as 20%.

A layoff can derail these plans just as you’re approaching the “finish line” and may even force you to modify your vision of the future.

You’re Facing Health Concerns

Losing your income is bad enough, but losing your health benefits can be particularly dangerous. As you age, these benefits become all the more essential. A lengthy job hunt can leave you vulnerable to health concerns for you and any dependents who were once on your healthcare policy.

You Have Trouble Integrating into the Company Culture

Even if you manage to land a new job in your 50s, fitting into your workplace culture can be a struggle. 

Although 37% of the American workforce is over 50, many older adults can feel out of place when they walk into an office full of 20-somethings. If you’ve already had a successful career, you may feel as though you’ve gone back a step and started from the bottom all over again.

How to Stay Employable in Your 50s

How to Stay Employable in Your 50s

Layoffs are unpredictable by nature. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to remain employable should the worst happen.

Emphasize Your Experience

When you respond to an online job posting, look for standout keywords in the job description (i.e., “efficient,” “versatile,” and “forward-thinking”) and incorporate them into your resume. The goal is to leverage your past experience in a way that demonstrates relevance to the job you’re applying for.

Admittedly, this approach can be time-consuming, but it also has the potential to shorten your job search by accentuating your unique skills and experience.

Age-Proof Your Resume

If you want to avoid ageism altogether, it might be wise to remove any hint of age from your resume.

For example, you may want to leave off your high school or college graduation years, which can easily give away your current age. Also, make sure you’re using a contemporary email platform like Gmail rather than an outdated AOL or Yahoo account.

Embrace New Technology

Never allow yourself to think that you’re “too old” to learn new technology. Instead, embrace new software or tools to make yourself more adaptable to the modern business climate.

Buying a smartphone, for example, can help you adapt to the modern business climate and help you keep better track of your online job applications.

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As the old saying goes, it’s not always what you know but who you know that matters. Networking helps you connect with people who know you and understand your skills and experience, which can often be more powerful than a resume alone.

Don’t Neglect Your Appearance

Your appearance says a lot about you, for better or for worse.

If you’re over 50, make an effort to keep your wardrobe and hairstyle as up-to-date as possible to make a good impression on the hiring manager. You might also delay a face-to-face interview for as long as possible so that prospective employers evaluate you based on merit rather than draw conclusions based on your age.

Be Patient

By some estimates, it can take as long as six years to land a job after age 50. Don’t get discouraged. Be patient and give yourself the grace you need to breathe and take care of yourself during this season of your life.

Tips for Protecting Your Finances After a Layoff

Tips for Protecting Your Finances After a Layoff

It’s particularly important to protect your finances following a layoff, especially if you’re over 50. Here are some tips to help you navigate your finances if you’ve recently lost your job.

Save and Invest Additional Money

The best strategy is to save and invest extra money. That way, you’ll have enough money to fund your retirement years even if you lose your job or have to take an entry-level position.

If you manage to save enough, you might even be able to skip the job hunt altogether and enjoy an early retirement.

Build Your Emergency Fund

Make sure you have enough resources to cover at least six months of personal expenses. Having an emergency fund will keep you from dipping into your regular savings account (or even your retirement savings) if you lose your steady income.

Put Money into Your HSA

Did you know you can deduct the money you put into your health savings account (HSA)?

Since you’re more likely to face medical expenses in your later years, making regular contributions to your HSA can reduce your tax liability and ensure that you have enough money to cover unexpected medical bills as you age.

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Add Buffer to Your Retirement Plan

It’s a good idea to have a contingency plan in place in the event that you become unemployable in your 50s. This might mean lowering your savings goal or raising your retirement age. Alternatively, it could mean adjusting your current spending to ensure that you stay on track for retirement.

Alternative retirement vehicles like annuities might also supplement your IRA or 401(k), providing income replacement if you ever lose your job.

Many people might want to dip into their retirement or take a loan out of their 401k in these situations, but that might not be the best course of action, as opposed to riding out your savings and figuring out if you’re on track to still have a fruitful retirement. A financial advisor will be able to go through your finances and give you an immediate plan of action in regards to your finances in these tumultuous times. 

Talk to a Financial Advisor

Not sure where to start? It may help to connect with a professional financial advisor. The right person can offer advice or support to help you navigate your later years with confidence, irrespective of your employment status. Financial advisors are absolutely essential when a significant life change occurs in one’s life, which range from divorces and marriage, changes in employment and income, starting a new business and end of life planning. It’s imperative that you speak with a financial advisor to make sure you have enough money to get you through this period of time, alongside with what your future retirement holds. Find an advisor in your area by using our search tool

“Ending up in a situation like what ‘Alex’ or my mother experienced isn’t the most enjoyable way to live life,” says Leonard Kim of AdvisorCheck. “To avoid these potentially dangerous sitautions, it’s best to make sure you take the time to see an advisor as early as possible, even if you’re in your 30s or 40s, to avoid the downfalls that my mom experienced. She would have loved to have avoided to put the burden of carrying for multiple people off of my shoulders, but that just wasn’t what was in store for our lives. Yet, you have the opportunity to prevent that happening for yourself,” Leonard continued.   

Decisions, Decisions

A layoff can be a setback, but it can also be an opportunity. When you lose your job, you’ll need to consider questions like:

  • Should I return to work or retire early?
  • Should I go back to school for more education?
  • Should I start my own business?
  • Should I take that entry-level position?

The aforementioned tips can provide valuable guidance for navigating these questions — as can a qualified advisor.

If you’re looking for a qualified financial advisor, take advantage of AdvisorCheck’s database. You’ll gain the input you need to thrive in your 50s and beyond, regardless of the hurdles that come your way. And make sure to make a free AdvisorCheck membership to get more insights like this delivered straight to your inbox.

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Written by John Boitnott, Motley Fool, Entrepreneur and contributor

Fact checked by Billy Quirk

Reviewed by KJ Kim

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The information provided in this article was written by the research and analysis team at to help all consumers in their financial journeys, by providing the resources and the insights to help improve one’s financial health, make it through recessionary and inflationary periods of time, and save their earnings to use them towards building a secure financial future. 

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