We all likely know someone in their 40s or 50s who was on track, doing just fine until they weren’t.

None of us who’ve played by the rules expect to land here, forced out of our jobs and facing early involuntary retirement. Yet, this is a reality for millions of older adults. A recent study by the Urban Institute and Propublica found that over half of workers over the age of 50 will at some point be jettisoned from their jobs (fired outright) or forced to resign (jumping before they’re pushed). Only 10% will ever again be compensated at the level of the jobs they left.

I wrote a survival manual on what to do if this happens to you. But there are steps to take to avoid landing here or to be better prepared if you do. Here’s what I’ve learned after interviewing dozens of people and hearing from hundreds more.

1. Stay woke. Given current ageist hiring and firing practices, know that you could well lose your job in your 50s. Yes, even you with your high five-figure salary, excellent work history and advanced degree. The shock of not seeing that pink slip coming can land you flat-footed and in denial. I’ve seen people race through their savings, spending months, even years chasing a job or career path that’s not coming back. So stay woke.

If you do lose your job, know that you’re not alone — not by a long shot. This will help you cycle faster through the kind of excessive self-blame that leads to inaction.

If you’ve been blowing off building up an emergency fund, make that a priority now. If you have that, beef up your savings.

2. Don’t be part of the problem. Implicit-bias tests show most people exhibit some kind of age prejudice, even older adults. So don’t be that plus-50 hiring manager who routinely passes over older job prospects, pulling up the drawbridge before they can even be considered.

And if you’re younger, know that workplace age discrimination is not some pesky boomer problem. It starts as early as the mid-30s for women. It can happen to you. That’s why we should all want our employers to include and track age as a diversity factor, insist that older talent be included as a routine part of candidate pools and push to hire professionals across generations.

3. Expand your network. My last four assignments came from mid-level managers in their 30s and 40s. I’ve noticed that many of us older workers don’t include those people in our professional and social networks. But often these are the folks who have an “in” with the company’s new rising star, who know what jobs are coming down the pike before they’re advertised and who have the inside scoop on funding priorities and where the money is.

It is easier than ever to exist in an information silo and to interact only with people who are just like us. And some of us nearing the end of our careers are just trying to keep our heads down and not make waves. But being invisible can work against us inside and outside our companies. With a one-in-two chance that we will part ways with our employer (their choice, not ours) at least once during our 50s, it’s important to keep our networks active and fresh.

4. Keep your job skills current. None of us planned for the whole game to change 10 years before we retired. Remote work technologies, ubiquitous internet access and cloud-based computing allow workers with in demand skills to work independently across industries from anywhere in the world.

But some of us are dug in, refusing to learn or change and, in the worst case, having a sense of self-righteous disdain for any of the new technologies that make working in the new environment feasible. Faced with accelerating change and disruptive technologies, we hold tight to old models of work, refusing to budge from what is familiar.

If this is you, recruiters and hiring managers say nothing ages us faster or puts us more at risk of losing our jobs or being perceived as irrelevant.

So refresh your credentials with new certifications, sign up for that training in the new technology, listen to podcasts, keep up with trends in your industry and stay active in your professional associations.

Simon & Schuster

I know. I know. You say you’ve done all of these things and still lost your job or can’t find work. When research shows that a majority of workers over 50 will be pushed out of their jobs, we know workplace age discrimination is still alive and well. All these people didn’t suddenly become poor performers when they turned 50.

Ageism is that one ism that everyone is going to experience. We get that we’re discriminating against our future selves, but these attitudes are so ingrained that it’s going to take more than individual effort to end ageism in the workplace. We’re going to need institutional muscle. On that score, business has a big role to play and can do more, not as a favor, but to improve their bottom line and ours.

According to AARP, America’s 50-plus segment consists of some 111 million consumers spending $7.6 trillion annually on goods and services. We account for 53% of airline expenditures, 56% of new cars and trucks, 55% of the sale of consumer-packaged goods and nearly half the purchases of entertainment and apparel. If millions of us lose our jobs in our 50s and remain underemployed or unemployed, we’re going to dial back our spending—big time. That means no eating out, buying clothes or shopping beyond basic necessities.

Not that belt tightening is necessarily a bad thing. But in our consumer-driven economy, it can’t be good for business if millions of boomer-age Americans start cutting their spending by 30%, 40% or more. So why care about us? Because we need/want to work and your bottom line depends on it. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Elizabeth White began her career at the World Bank, then became a retail entrepreneur and is now an advocate for older adults facing uncertain work and financial insecurity and author of “55, Underemployed and Faking Normal”. Follow her on Twitter @55fakingnormal.

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