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

For all the due-diligence and retirement planning older Americans have done, there’s one obstacle that just won’t go away, one that poses a major financial burden.

A ProPublica and Urban Institute report finds that, despite the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act, more than half of workers over 50 are being pushed out of longtime stable jobs even if they hadn’t planned to retire—and the resultant financial damage could haunt them for the rest of their lives.

In fact, according to the report, 28 percent of longtime employees have experienced at least one layoff between turning 50 and retiring.

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Researchers analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study to get a handle on how many workers were pushed out, rather than leaving voluntarily, and found that 56 percent get laid off at least once, “or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than choosing to go voluntarily.”

To add insult to injury, just one in 10 of those workers ever manages to earn as much as they did before employment setbacks began—and the effects linger for years afterward, with the household incomes of more than half of those shoved out the door remaining substantially below those of workers who don’t.

“This isn’t how most people think they’re going to finish out their work lives,” Richard Johnson, an Urban Institute economist and veteran scholar of the older labor force who worked on the analysis, said in the report.

Johnson added, “For the majority of older Americans, working after 50 is considerably riskier and more turbulent than we previously thought.”

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

“We’ve known that some workers get a nudge from their employers to exit the work force and some get a great big kick,” Gary Burtless, a labor economist with the Brookings Institution in Washington, is quoted saying in the report. Burtless adds, “What these results suggest is that a whole lot more are getting the great big kick.”

And then there are those who get the kick while they’re still on the 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 treatment by supervisors have deteriorated. These, too, indicate departures that may well not be freely chosen.”

There are plenty of them, too, with HRS data suggesting that the numbers could be as high as 22 million enduring layoff, forced retirement or other involuntary job separation. “Of these,” says the report, “only a little over 2 million have recovered or will.”

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