Thanks to their seniority, folks 55 and older were once less likely than their younger co-workers to be laid off during a recession. Not this time around. Steep manufacturing cuts have hit older workers particularly hard. And even in workplaces where seniority still provides protection, older men have less of it than they used to; only 44% of male workers aged 58 to 62 work for the same employer they were with at age 50, down from 70% 25 years ago.
Here are some tips for older layoff victims.
No. 1: Keep Your Health Insurance
If you have employer-provided health insurance, use “COBRA”–a federal provision that lets you continue in your ex-employer’s plan, but without an employer subsidy. It was always essential to stay insured, and now it’s affordable too. Under the stimulus package passed in February, the feds will pick up 65% of your COBRA premium for nine months. Warning: If your adjusted gross income is more than $250,000 for a couple or $125,000 for an individual, you’ll have to pay some or all of the federal subsidy back when you file your tax return.
No. 2: Consider Americorps
If you don’t need too much income and would like to do work such as tutoring, consider Americorps. A law President Obama signed in April slowly increases the number of federally funded Americorps slots from 75,000 to 250,000 and aims to fill 10% of them with folks 55 and older. The jobs pay minimum wage plus a $4,725 education grant (increasing to $5,350 Oct. 1) for each year worked. Under the new law, this grant can be transferred to children or grandchildren. Another senior-friendly change: Americorps slots used to be full-time jobs lasting a maximum of two years. Now they can be turned into part-time jobs lasting longer.
No. 3: Find Senior-Friendly Employers Online
At www.retirementjobs.com, you’ll find 20,000 listings from employers that say they’re open to applications from older workers. AARP, the 40-million member organization for folks 50 and older, lists 41 companies, from AT&T to Walgreens, that have won spots on its “National Employer Team” and links to those employers’ job sites at www.aarp.org/money.
No. 4: Visit An AARP “Work Search” Office
Since January 2008, AARP has been building a network of offices–now up to 75–offering skills-assessment services, retraining and job-hunting advice (mostly for free) to folks 40 and up. To qualify, your income for the prior six months must not be above the median income for your community. More details and locations are at www.aarpworksearch.org. “Individuals who may have never thought about a program like this are applying,” says Deborah Russell, director of workforce issues at AARP.
No. 5: Go Back to School, With Tax Breaks
Community colleges are ramping up certificate programs in growth fields ranging from medical-record keeping to solar panel installation. For part-time coursework, the Lifetime Learning tax credit gives you up to $2,000 off your federal income taxes. If you are enrolled more than half-time in an undergraduate program, you may be eligible to claim the $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit. (Income limits apply to both credits).
No. 6: Tap Retirement Accounts With Care
Usually, money you take from a pre-tax IRA or 401(k) before age 59 and a half is subject to a 10% early withdrawal penalty, in addition to normal tax. But there are lots of exceptions to that penalty–and also lots of traps. For example, if you’re already 55, or are turning 55 in the year you’re laid off, you can tap into a 401(k) but not an IRA without penalty. If you’re out of work, you can use an IRA, but not a 401(k), to pay health insurance premiums.
No. 7: Take Social Security Early, Pay It Back
If you’re already 62 and need to take early Social Security benefits to make ends meet, do so. But if you land a new job, consider repaying any benefits you’ve taken and waiting until at least your “normal” or “full” retirement age (66 to 67 for those born in 1943 or later) to claim benefits.
No. 8: Know Your Unemployment Benefits
The National Employment Law Project offers a comprehensive guide to benefits at www.unemployedworkers.org.
No. 9: Seek Out Stimulus Jobs
The federal government will soon start lavishing money on certain fields, including energy, education and health care.
No. 10: Deduct Your Job Search and Moving Costs