Just one in 10 of “pushed out”workers ever manages to earn as much as they did before employmentsetbacks began—and the effects linger for years afterward. (Photo:Shutterstock)

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For all the due-diligence and retirement planning olderAmericans have done, there's one obstacle that just won't go away, one thatposes a major financial burden.

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A ProPublica and Urban Institute report findsthat, despite the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, more thanhalf of workers over 50 are being pushed out of longtime stablejobs even if they hadn't planned to retire—and the resultant financialdamage could haunt them for the rest of their lives.

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In fact, according to the report, 28 percent oflongtime employees have experienced atleast one layoff between turning 50 and retiring.

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Related: Automation and age discrimination slam olderworkers

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Researchers analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Studyto get a handle on how many workers were pushed out, rather thanleaving voluntarily, and found that 56 percent get laid off atleast once, “or leave jobs under such financially damagingcircumstances that it's likely they were pushed out rather thanchoosing to go voluntarily.”

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To add insult to injury, just one in 10 of those workers evermanages to earn as much as they did before employment setbacksbegan—and the effects linger for years afterward, with thehousehold incomes of more than half of those shoved out the doorremaining substantially below those of workers who don't.

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“This isn't how most people think they're going to finish outtheir work lives,” Richard Johnson, an Urban Institute economistand veteran scholar of the older labor force who worked on theanalysis, said in the report.

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Johnson added, “For the majority of older Americans, workingafter 50 is considerably riskier and more turbulent than wepreviously thought.”

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Additional findings reveal that 28 percent of “stable, longtimeemployees” are caught up in at least one damaging layoff betweenturning 50 and retirement. Another 13 percent of workers in stable,long-held jobs when they turn 50 “unexpectedly retire underconditions that suggest they were forced out,” the report adds,complete with a “substantial drop in earnings and income.”

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“We've known that some workers get a nudge from their employersto exit the work force and some get a great big kick,” GaryBurtless, a labor economist with the Brookings Institution inWashington, is quoted saying in the report. Burtless adds, “Whatthese results suggest is that a whole lot more are getting thegreat big kick.”

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And then there are those who get the kick while they're still onthe job: another 15 percent of over-50 workers, the report says,who were in stable jobs to begin with, end up quitting or leaving“after reporting that their pay, hours, work locations or treatmentby supervisors have deteriorated. These, too, indicate departuresthat may well not be freely chosen.”

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There are plenty of them, too, with HRS data suggesting that thenumbers could be as high as 22 million enduring layoff, forcedretirement or other involuntary job separation. “Of these,” saysthe report, “only a little over 2 million have recovered orwill.”

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And the jobs they can find after such experiences are nothing tobrag about. In fact, many go on to get laid off again and again, orwork a cobbled-together batch of jobs at low pay to bring in enoughfor survival—if they can find work at all.

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.