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Release: Immediate

UI professor: 'Tis the season for older workers

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Shoppers may see a few more older faces behind the counters of stores during their holiday shopping sprees as more retirees and older Americans return to the work force, says a University of Iowa expert on elderly consumer affairs.

Older Americans are a readily available pool of excellent employees, a source of talent that's critical for retailers going into their busiest time of the year and facing historically low levels of unemployment, says Catherine Cole, associate professor of marketing.

"Retailers are finding that older, retired people are generally good employees because they tend to have a good work ethic, they're reliable and they're already trained," Cole says. "And older people are willing to work."

Cole, who specializes in marketing and elderly consumers, says nationally there is a trend for older Americans, especially recent retirees, to return to work to supplement retirement income and to remain active.

Such "young retirees" are an increasingly important source of employees for retailers, especially in the service industry, who are facing a shortage of lower-wage employees while the number of American workers seeking employment has dropped to record levels. In Iowa, the October 1997 jobless rate was 2.6 percent, matching a record set in July 1997.

Cole says the lack of available workers is heightened during the holiday season when retailers need temporary help and employees who can work flexible shifts in preparation for the annual onslaught of shoppers. Many will turn to older workers; others will have to offer better wage and bonus plans to attract employees.

"Retailers have had to be very clever about where they can find part-time help," Cole says.

The return of older Americans to the work force has been building during the past decade, Cole says, as retirees find the money they set aside for retirement doesn't spread as far as they had hoped.

"Older Americans are discovering they need more money to live as retirees than they thought," Cole says. "They need more pocket cash."

Older workers may also help attract an older, and more wealthy, generation of consumers, but the appeal of such a marketing plan would depend heavily on the type of store and its target audience, Cole says.