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Older workers and the road to (un)retirement

Despite layoffs and lost savings, some in the senior workforce find their jobs prospects are not all that gloomy.

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Until last year, everyone in Georgette Pascale's communications firm in Pittsburgh was under the age of 38. Then she interviewed Deb Holliday, who is in her mid-50s, and hired her.

"Her experience has been invaluable to everyone," says Ms. Pascale, the company president. "It's nice to get the other end of the age spectrum."

Score one for hiring and keeping employees over 50 – a pressing need as the ranks of older Americans grow.

The recession is squeezing the senior workforce on two sides. It has shriveled savings, forcing many older workers with jobs to postpone retirement. The contraction has also cut job openings, making it tougher for retirees wanting to reenter the workforce to do so. A nagging question hangs over them all: Are they being discriminated against because of their age? Age-discrimination complaints jumped 29 percent to a record level in the most recent fiscal year, the federal government reports.

But the outlook isn't all gloomy. Just as companies have long been recognized as great workplaces, some firms are working to become standouts for their treatment of mature workers – organizations including Sprint, Cornell University, and Jos. A. Bank.

"Employers are increasingly seeing the value of retaining and hiring older workers for the depth of experience they bring," says Patrick Rafter of RetirementJobs.com, a career website for those over 50. That includes skills learned in their careers, higher loyalty, and lower turnover than younger workers. "We see this as a very favorable development, ultimately a sea change shift in the market," he says.

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