Silver Linings During the Pandemic
Record unemployment rates related to COVID-19 business closures have hurt business owners and their workers, many of whom are 50 years and older. Though workers of all ages have felt the effects of unemployment or reduced working hours, older workers will fare worse upon re-entering the workforce. Research shows the recession of 2008 found that those adults age 62 or more were the least likely group to re-enter the workforce, and it is most likely as the employment situation stabilizes the same will hold in 2020. Ageism plays a role when employers have huge swaths of potential employees from which to choose.
Many unemployed older workers feel the effects of income loss and wild financial market swings wreaking havoc on their retirement savings accounts, as well as the potential that Social Security benefits may be reduced in the near future. Happily, before the pandemic, a trend towards later retirement, transitional work, and "encore" careers became the norm. Out of either necessity or desire, aging Americans choose to be active in the workforce, and policies and practices are starting to catch up to age discrimination. AARP has more than 350 companies who have signed an Employer Pledge that sources experienced workers. These companies provide job opportunities and career fairs online that are age-diverse.
Sheltering in place during this pandemic has kept many older Americans from having pre-existing physical, social, and emotional needs met as healthcare systems and network services for seniors are minimizing service to large numbers to protect and serve the most vulnerable. This disruption of services like regular check-ups and elective procedures leads to a lack of personal care, proper nutrition, and medical management for many. Telehealth can remotely connect a patient to a medical professional, and with wearable devices, important medical information can be assessed in real-time by a doctor. If the situation warrants, medical intervention will follow. In the case of nutrition, beyond take-out and meal delivery services, grocery stores are now providing home delivery systems for fresh food. These delivery services include Instacart, Walmart Grocery, Safeway Grocery Delivery, Kroger ClickList, Vitacost, Peapod, AmazonFresh, and more.
The effects of increased isolation are producing more anxiety and depression in aging Americans. Loneliness is linked to negative mental and physical health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cognitive decline, obesity, and death. The good news is that we live in a digital age where the Internet of Things (IoT) can connect people virtually. There is a steady growth of tech-savvy seniors who are well-versed in the use of digital devices and apps that let them talk real-time to family and friends. Family and inter-generational connections are stronger than ever since this pandemic has encouraged everyone to stay in touch. Programs like Students4Seniors and ZoomerstoBoomers are examples of younger generations lending a helping hand to seniors. Digital social connection is combating the negative consequences of isolationism.
Before the coronavirus, only about one half of Americans have had conversations about their end of life situation with loved ones. Only 27 percent of those have the legal documentation reflecting their wishes. The need to address mortality is uncomfortable but unavoidable for older Americans during this pandemic as they are disproportionately dying from COVID-19. There are general and specific pandemic-related end-of-life planning resources online that can help a senior think through scenarios before meeting with their attorney. Most law groups and individual attorneys are now set up to teleconference or video conference to create advance directives and associated legal documents. Many states are permitting online signature for these documents during the pandemic.
For every negative consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, there are solutions that drive positive outcomes, especially in the case of seniors. Efforts that improve the services of private and non-profit agencies, advocacy groups and policymaking, healthcare and business models are accelerating to meet the needs of our most vulnerable population. Technology, creativity, and sensitivity to senior needs are making life a better experience during a difficult time not only for seniors but also for the families and providers meeting those needs that create a stronger, more interconnected America that values its elders. And if you are outside of Florida, please contact an experienced Elder Law Attorney (preferably one that is Board Certified in Elder Law) to assist you.
Jason A. Penrod is only the 20th attorney to be Board Certified as an Elder Law Expert by the Florida Bar and the National Elder Law Foundation. He is the founder of Family Elder Law (www.familyelderlaw.com) which has offices in Lakeland, Lake Wales, and Sebring, Florida.