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Understanding older worker precarity: the intersecting domains of jobs, households and the welfare state

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Document pages: 23 pages

Abstract: In policy debates it is commonly claimed that older workers are entering a period of choice and control. In contrast, Guy Standing s book The Precariat: The Dangerous New Class, published in 2011, argues that older people are increasingly joining the ‘precariat’, by taking low-level jobs to supplement dwindling pension incomes. We argue that many older workers, not just those in ‘precarious jobs’, feel a sense of ‘ontological precarity’. Pressures to work longer, combined with limited alternative employment prospects and inadequate retirement incomes, give rise to a heightened sense of precarity. We develop a new theoretical model for understanding precarity as a lived experience, which is influenced by the intersection between precarious jobs, precarious welfare states and precarious households. This model is then illustrated using qualitative research from two organisations in the United Kingdom: ‘Local Government’ and ‘Hospitality’. In both organisations, older workers experienced a sense of ontological precarity because they worried about the long-term sustainability of their jobs and saw limited alternative sources of retirement income. Household circumstances either reinforced interviewees’ sense of precarity, or acted as a buffer against it. This was particularly important for women, as they typically accrued smaller financial resources in their own right. Our concluding discussion builds on this more advanced theoretical understanding of older worker precarity to call for a rethinking of state and employer support for decisions around later-life working and retirement.

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