The Life-Altering Antidote to Job-Hunting for the Over 55: Moving to Mexico
(Real life. Denver at least has a low-unemployment rate)
Those of you who are over 55 and have found yourself in the job market have probably run across Kerry Hannon, an author, columnist, and expert on retirement and job-hunting post 50.
First off, let me say I like the spunky Ms. Hannon. Hers is a necessary voice pumping up mid-lifers who have found themselves trying to find a job in an apologetically ageist society.
She admonishes women to get used to managing for their financial future, regardless of their interest or comfort level in topics like investing, which should be addressed as core subjects, not electives in the school of survival. As you’d expect from any good coach, she tells you to get spiritually and physically fit. Exercise, meditate, and above all save your money (with all that implies).
Her audience slants unjustly to women. Most of her advice would apply to anyone looking for a job regardless of age or sex. Tips include timeless gems (The hint of sarcasm is not your imagination) such as
Go to where the jobs are
Get the skills
Do the job, even if you volunteer first
She advocates starting a business over 55. Who doesn’t realize at this age how capricious working for someone else is? A change of company leadership, automation, or company closing can put you out of work, perhaps permanently if you're over 50. Having your own business gives many (the illusion of) control. For those with enough of a runway to get through the first few learning years, starting a business beats out other options for many reasons; self-esteem, a sense of purpose, and gaining new technical skills.
There will always be a place in the marketplace for Hannon’s perky message: All you need to do is think young, plan and prepare. This is America after all, the place where if you work hard enough and educate yourself, anyone can get a shiny new job. (Baby Boomers gobble this fifties-era idealism up by the shovelful. I doubt Ms. Hannon has much of a following among Millennials).
Some of her creative ideas for jobs are home modification pro, drivers for retirement homes, and becoming a move-manager for people who are downsizing their homes
I’ve never seen an ad for “home modification pro” or “move manager in a job posting. Here is a more realistic job listing:
Reading Hannon’s books would likely improve your mood for awhile regarding your job search. What it won’t do is change society. As a former recruiter for over 20 years who worked with hundreds of hiring managers, I know. The job of the world is to brush away the old and make way for the new.
Hope is a good breakfast but a bad supper - Francis Bacon, English statesman
You read a great deal these days about “fighting ageism” on Baby Boomer websites. The time to have fought ageism was when you were young and hiring people yourself. Otherwise, no one is listening. Sorry. We participated in the same ageism when we were hiring managers in our 30’s . As a now-over-60 retired senior executive refreshingly confessed to me, "Hell, I think I invented it."
It’s tempting to feel hopeful with an official 3.8 % (April,2019) unemployment rate unless you already know how flawed reported unemployment rates are.
If a person worked even one hour a week at minimum wage, for example, they are considered employed by the government. The official unemployment rate discounts people who have not actively looked for work in four weeks. It discounts people who have “stopped looking.” Millions of Baby Boomers fall into that category after having lost their jobs in their mid- to late 50’s during the Great Recession.
Contrary to popular belief, employment data comes from surveys of a mere 60,000 people a month, not from who is receiving unemployment benefits as many people believe. The unemployment rate discounts several categories, including students (many of whom have go back to school when they cannot find decent jobs)
A better gauge of the real unemployment rate is provided by the Economic Policy Institute, which tries to estimate “missing workers,” those who have would be looking if the opportunities for a decent job (read: a living wage) were stronger, those who have ‘given up.”
An astonishing 57% of missing workers are between 55 and 64. Another 13.4% are between 65 and 74. Added up, that means 70.4% of missing workers are over 55.
A 63-year-old friend of mine recently lost his $250,000 executive job. He is substitute teaching for about $19,000 a year. (He was crushed initially when he “couldn’t even get a job at a bike shop”…as if that’s not a plum job!). Another friend is an association executive trying to get a secretarial job. The list goes on and on and assuredly includes many of your friends.
Many, many talented, educated, creative older people are driving Uber and patching together $ 18-hour contract work. A few have gotten soul-crushing back-office work. They have solid credentials and lifelong habits of success. Those traits haven't mattered. Not one bit.
It’s bitter fruit. A long-term diet of it makes even the most positive person angry, their personalities fundamentally changed after decades of producing great work, believing in the power of it, then being cast aside.
As a reformed purchaser of motivational books, I have learned that in spite of all this positive thinking on the part of Hannon and the circuit of cheer who publish her articles, without specialized background like healthcare and or an advanced degree, your odds as a 55+ job seeker are not good. In fact, they are terrible.
I’m aware that no Baby Boomer website editors are going to be knocking my doors down for interviews and gushing over me as they do Ms. Hannon for saying it, but I’ve earned the right.
At 55, I had confidently been following all the rules as espoused by people like Ms. Hannon for five years; continuing education, networking, technical-skill updating, working out, paying coaches and volunteering. I’d teethed on “What Color Is Your Parachute?” as a college graduate. I’d successfully transitioned careers three times. I was a believer.
Taking into account my cost of living while I hunted for a job, I wish now I’d cut bait and moved to Mexico at least two years sooner. Another side of the equation that is never brought up is the cost of living in the United States during a fruitless career search.
When you are unemployed you carry the cost of daily living and the costs of the job hunt itself. How I rue the hundreds of dollars a year I spent on professional conferences, career coaching, mandatory donations to organizations on whose boards I served, and buying “influencers” lunches.
Looking back, I feel both sad and stupid. Irrationally, illogically, I cannot shake the feeling of having been laughed at.
I’m the Anti-Kerry (not in the “against-her” sense, but rather as in an “antidote-to” sense)
Most people don’t believe they can move to a cheaper country (although they do believe in vocational pink ponies). For them I recommend Kerry Hannon.
For those of you who have run out of ideas (the photo-album business, selling jams or crafted soaps at festivals), the undeniable fact is that you can reduce your cost of living substantially living in a cheaper country, even part-time. If nothing else, you can save money until you figure it out.
Other than in a few categories, a good rule of thumb is that you will pay half of what you pay in the U.S. for almost everything living in Mexico, including housing, food and entertainment. When it comes to drugs and dentists, those will be a fraction of what you spend in the U.S. All this can make for a very appealing option while you trend water.
If you are working at a dreadful low paying job in the United States that only covers half the bills and going into your savings to maintain a respectable quality of life, you might trade that in for an unemployed life in Mexico for the same price. It’s the choice many expats have made.
What others like to call “giving up,” expats define as leaning into a life of greater simplicity, finally learning another language and enjoying a new cultures's surprising gifts.
If you have to work, it is possible to find a way to earn American dollars in Mexico working remotely. A data entry or transcription job at $15.00 an hour working from Mexico is a lot more palatable when you can go out to a nice dinner on it.
Many companies these days allow telecommuting and others will if they can be convinced of the cost savings they might achieve. If you are currently in a job that allows you to complete some of your work without the requirement of face-to-face personal interaction with customers, you may be in the perfect position to approach your boss about allowing you to work from home as a first step.
From there it's a grooming process for you both. You have to develop skills to indicate you can be trusted to produce even higher quality of work for the chance to work remotely. If you live in a hub city with direct flights to Mexico's major cities, you might be able to come back affordably every few months if need be, and still put more money into your 401(k).
If you have specialized experience in healthcare, legal, pharmaceutical, accounting or educational fields, or have whiz bang technical administrative skills, the website Virtual Vocations has guides to telecommuting in those industries. Look for their "Telecommute tool-kit." A number of sites specialize in remote work, and some of these jobs can be done from anywhere if you know the tools.
Starting an online business
If you start your own business, business tax deductions are portable. You can take them with you no matter where you’re working. In a cheaper country, the tax deductions alone might make it worthwhile to start a business, even without income for a few years. Combined with drawing less money from savings, business deductions might reduce your taxable income enough to qualify for ACA or other medical subsidies if you need to retain American health insurance coverage.
If you need to, you can live very comfortably on in Mexico in a tax bracket that would probably be demoralizing in the U.S. If you are relatively comfortable in the U.S., you can take it up a notch.
Even as much as it’s touted, Mexico's lower cost of living is under-rated
Most articles about living in a cheaper country do not go far enough in conveying what a lower cost of living really means, the lighter weight you feel on so many levels, every day. You don’t feel guilty about the cappuccino because it just cost $2.50, or going out to dinner.
Even my wealthy friends in the U.S. get anxious over the cost of living in the United States, mira a ver what’s it’s like for all of those who agonize over ordering a signature cocktail rather than a highball. Living in a cheaper country, for the first time in years, you may actually exhale.
Things don’t only cost less in Mexico, you spend less in a less materialistic, less consumer-driven society. People underestimate the influence marketing has on our spending habits in the U.S. Don’t believe me? Go to a Whole Foods store and try to buy just a gallon of milk.
The bare-bones budget calculations below are just to give you an idea of the basic cost of living in Mexico for a year.
It doesn’t include meals outs, drinking, home improvements (which you might even make if you rent), dental services, clothing, sight-seeing within Mexico, or the now-affordable luxuries like massages or spa treatments.
Rent @ $600 a month (very nice area) $7,200
Food @ $75 a week ($300 mo) 3,600
Transportation (buses/Uber @$150/mo) 1,800
Entertainment ($100/mo) 1,200 (which will go further in Mexico)
Health Insurance (IMSS) 600
Trips home (2) 800
Tax bracket 10% 1,580
(if you have a business, tax deduction should will lower your taxes)
Total net income needed $17,380
What's your realistic outlook?
If your lifestyle costs $70,000 in the U.S, it will cost $35,000 in Mexico. Throwing the dice, what are your chances of getting a job for $70,000 next year?
Will you get lucky and secure a dismal, exhausting job for $33,000 (with its 45.7% chance of providing healthcare coverage) and still take thousands out of your savings to supplement that? Or will you be one of the 15% of people participating in the gig economy, doing contract work for $15-20 with no benefits?
If you have even some money saved, for the love of all things holy...Why?
Move to Mexico, or Panama, or Belize. Start a business like photography or some other business you can do from a laptop. If you do not have the savings to carry you through the first few years of starting a business, concentrate now on finding a job you can do from Mexico, where you really can live on $17.00 an hour.
Take a look at a few expat forums. Read what they say, the nutty yet beautiful and serene lives they live. Take a look at the more of the budgets they post. They are accurate.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. This can apply to anything, including job hunting over 55.
Don’t lose hope. Re-frame it from a cantina in Mexico.
One of my favorite blogs is "For the Interested." Here, Josh Spector tells us how to "Rewrite Our Own Stories."
You might save money just moving to a cheaper city in the U.S. Why I didn't.
More details on remote work you can do from Mexico - Ventanas Mexico
The retirement crisis is real, just like they've been telling you all along. Ventanas Mexico
How to inch your way towards working in another country in the future? Start working remotely today. Ventanas Mexico.
A wonderful hack to teaching English in Mexico without the investment of certifications.
Next up: Just because you live in Mexico part-time doesn’t mean you can’t continue to participate in change in the U.S. Here are some tips.
About the author:
Hola, I'm Kerry Baker and a partner with Ventanas Mexico as well as author of two books. The first is the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online.
This book curates the great, buried language tools on the web, many of the sites are in Spain, and lays them out into lesson plans by level. I use it almost every day to create individualized sessions that will keep me motivated. Study from your tablet, e-read or laptop (I adore my Acer Aspire). Spanish changes your life in Mexico. The time to start is now, before you go.
My second book is "If Only I Had a Place," on renting luxuriously for less in Mexico, all the advantages and potential pitfalls of renting in a culture far more based on reputation than regulation.
The book has a listing of on-the-ground rental concierges in all the big expat destinations. Many of them have been profiled in my blogs.