In the Autumn, drugstore chain CVS Caremark (CVS) cut some 800 jobs in Northern California after acquiring Longs Drugs, a Walnut Creek (Calif.) pharmacy rival. Despite those cuts, the company continues to recruit baby boomers and other older workers to staff stores across the country. "We need their expertise," says Stephen Wing, director of workforce initiatives at CVS Caremark in Woonsocket, R.I. "When you're in your 50s and 60s, you're in your prime."
Companies nationwide are laying off workers by the tens of thousands. But many are trying to spare the post-55 set from the axe, a reversal of the top-down trends in past waves of layoffs. They're being driven by legal concerns—since boomers are in a protected age group—and by a need to keep experienced hands in place to keep the companies running and positioned for an upturn. "Seniority matters," says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, director of the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.
All age groups are being hit by cuts now coursing through Corporate America, but government statistics so far suggest that the burden is falling far more heavily on younger workers. The unemployment rate among workers 55 and over is not only lower than for the younger set, but it has risen less sharply. Joblessness for those 55 and older jumped to 4.9% in December 2008, a rise of 1.8 percentage points from the 3.1% level of December 2007. By contrast, for their younger colleagues, those aged 25-54, the rate climbed to 6.3% in December, compared with 4% a year before, a sharper rise. The different impact comes into even more stark relief with the government's measures of employment. The number of people employed in the younger set has fallen from 100.5 million in December 2007 to 97.7 million as of last December—a 2.9% slide. By contrast, the number of those working among the 55 and older set has actually risen by 878,000, climbing to nearly 29.1 million.