Older Women Workers in New Hampshire: The Life Behind the Data

Editor’s Note: This is the first in an occasional series on older women in the workforce and unemployed older women seeking to return to work in New Hampshire.

By TERRY FARISH, InDepthNH.org

Erine Leigh turned 70 in April. She is a massage therapist in Portsmouth. During the pandemic, she stopped paying downtown rent and moved her practice home. She also works as a replacement chef at $ 16 / hr at Earth Eagle Brewery.

S Stephanie is 69 and works as an assistant instructor at New England College in Manchester and recently took a summer job at a Rollinsford hardware store which she describes as progressive. She wears a mask and works behind a plexiglass screen. She earns a little more than the minimum wage. She thinks she will never be able to retire.

Victoria Tkaczevski, 58, is a nurse at the RiverMead Lifecare Community health center in Peterborough where she worked throughout the pandemic. She said she had never had difficulty finding work in home care or long-term care, but wanted to work in a hospital’s medico-surgical unit.

Nancy Lyhne Sheridan is a children’s librarian at the Colby Memorial Library in Danville. She is 64 years old. During the pandemic, when more demanded in the areas of technology, she focused on developing her technical skills. “I am delighted to have so much knowledge now. “

Nadine Miller, 54, assistant historic preservation officer in NH’s Historic Resources Division, said: “It seems to me after 15 years here that my responsibility is to mentor the young people who are coming in.

These five women remained in the workforce through the summer of 2021. The data collected and studies of older women in the workforce are reflected in parts of their stories.

But many more women are out of the workforce this summer. Annette Nielsen, economist at NH’s Job Security’s Economic and Labor Market Information Office, said: “With the economic disruption of the pandemic, women’s employment has declined by 9, 6% between the first and the second quarter of 2020, a loss of 27,900 women against 18,100 men. . “

“The largest decline in the labor force participation rate among women occurred in the 25-34 age cohort and among women over 65. “

Reasons older women leave the workforce range from fear of COVID-19, to becoming caregivers of grandchildren, to early retirement because a woman couldn’t find a job with a salary equivalent to the one she lost, and more.

Older women face barriers in the labor market. Women in general still face the long-standing gender pay gap. In New Hampshire, women currently earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, as reported by the National Women’s Law Center using data from the 2020 US Census.

https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Overall-Wage-Gap-State-By-State-2021-v2.pdf

The National Women’s Law Center reports a much larger wage gap for non-white women. Black women working full time, full year earn 63 cents for every dollar paid to white men. Latinas earn 55 cents; Asian women working full time earn 87 cents for every dollar paid to white men, “but the pay gap is larger for certain subgroups of Asian women.”

https://nwlc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Wage-Gap-Who-how.pdf

Martha McLeod, community engagement coordinator for the NH Alliance for Healthy Aging for New Futures, describes an additional factor. “Ageism is real and has a huge impact on older women. It is largely undisputed and unrecognized and has accentuated the impacts of Covid on older women in the workforce. NH and federal laws don’t really have teeth to deal with this discrimination. ”

Nielsen’s report is titled “Reviving New Hampshire’s Workforce: 2021 Economic Analysis Report”. In an interview, she spoke through this lens of bringing people back to the workforce. She said, “There is an opportunity now, but there is fear. More men in the older cohort continued to work. They continued to work at the Lowes and Home Depots. Men in construction, many have never stopped working. There were a lot of new construction and modernization projects.

In addition to the fear of COVID-19, older women have family responsibilities that have kept them from working, including helping to raise their grandchildren.

Other data confirms this. The New Hampshire Children’s Trust reports that 14,881 children under the age of 18 live with their grandparents. Mary Lou Beaver, who heads the Kinship Program at Waypoint, said: “Due to Covid our numbers have jumped.” She has created a “Guide for Grandparents” to help grandparents who step in to care for children due to “incarceration, drug addiction, illness or any other reason.”

The jobs that Nielsen considers most open to older workers are in hospitality and direct care in health care. “Jobs have opened up a lot in hotels, retirement homes and daycare centers. But, of course, these are the low paying jobs. And retail, ”she said,“ but it’s more physical. “

“So if a woman thinks, should I help with the grandchildren or go take one of those $ 10, $ 12 an hour jobs, and she’s scared of Covid, she could wait until autumn.

“Help request signs around – these are in places where they have been drastically closed and people have been made redundant and employers have had to proceed with staffing. And seasonal jobs.

“Before, places closed at the end of the season. The employer called the same people and they kept coming back. But with Covid, they ask ‘Do I want to do this? “

Maybe some older people will come back in the fall, when the foliage is peak, when the young people go back to school. We do not know.

McLeod adds another dimension to the story of older women workers. Speaking of professional women, she said: “Many of those who have lost their jobs give up on finding comparable jobs and turn to early retirement or lower paying jobs, which affects their quality of life and, for some, causes problems of poverty and housing. What I often hear from people is that ageism is like stepping off a cliff. People are not ready or have no plans to retire yet, but the loss of a well-paying job leaves them with few options. Our job security system is not designed to help older and more experienced workers find employment for a position of a comparable level.

The New Hampshire women I interviewed about being an older woman who is currently in the workforce all have very different histories. They have different needs.

Sheridan is the oldest member of the staff at her library. The deputy director is 32 years old. A dear friend of hers was fired from her job in another library; Sheridan doesn’t ignore the age bias but doesn’t feel it. She enjoys learning new things like her mother who worked until the age of 84. Sheridan feels privileged to be able to work in a field she loves and has the resources to leave when she needs them.

Tkaczevski, who is a nurse, said: “When you apply for a job they say they don’t discriminate based on age, but I think they do. They prefer people who have no experience. So you are a clean slate. She is an artist who turned to nursing later in life because she wanted to give outdoors. When the pandemic hit, she had PPE at work and she learned to protect herself. Although some residents and staff tested positive for COVID-19 in late 2020, Tkaczevski said: “I was never scared. I work with great people.

Miller, as Assistant Historic Preservation Officer, oversees reviews of federally funded and authorized projects. “When I was younger, a lot of older white men didn’t like me telling them what to do.” She worked with this and now sees herself as a problem solver, someone who understands and sees the options for compromise. With experience, it is she who takes the hard knocks. “I savor this role.”

Leigh, the massage therapist, thinks about her four grown daughters and because of them she doesn’t want to use her resources. His bequest for them is all they will receive. She wants to hand over her house, a small brick house in a housing estate built for shipyard workers during the First World War. She made her own way in the world of work. She said, “I’m good. Because of my training and because I have been doing it for a long time. She set limits. “Two clients a day, sometimes three. I’m tired. “She said,” Women are one link in a chain and pass on what came before us.

Stephanie, who works at the Rollinsford hardware store, does not have the resources to stop working at any age. She said: “Women cannot live with low-paid part-time jobs that they string together, without healthcare, without childcare, and also saving for retirement. This is a lie. Women who work will have to continue to work. She “refused to enter the NEC classroom when Covid struck” and was unemployed for six months. Stéphanie worked 26 years as an LPN, 19 years as an auxiliary instructor without benefits. She was able to repay her student loans at 62. “In retirement, women will have to continue working. I’m talking about working women, lower middle class women. Women need a salary equal to that of men. Women need health care and child care while raising a family, so that we can save money. And life.

Future articles on Older Women Workers in New Hampshire will include a focus on marginalized older women and older women unemployed and seeking to return.

You can contact Terry Farish at tfarish@gmail.com

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