Academic journal article Generations

The Labor Market of Older Workers

Academic journal article Generations

The Labor Market of Older Workers

Article excerpt

In this world of work, age simply doesn't matter- age, any age, works.

-Beverly Goldberg

Age Works: What Corporate America Must Do to Survive the Graying of the War

If demography were destiny and only the numbers mattered, older workers would soon find themselves wooed by the best employers in town. Though over the next ten years the pool of potential young labor-force entrants will expand more rapidly than it has in the past two decades, population growth will be far more pronounced in the "older" age group, defined in this article as people age 55 and older. All told, nearly one in three workingage Americans will be at least 55 in 2010. Employers in search of bodies would seem to have little choice but to turn to older men and women.

Even without a concerted effort on the part of employers to hire and retain older workers, the labor force is aging. According to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.9 percent of the labor force will be 55 or older in 2oio, up from 12.9 percent in 2000. By 2010, 26.6 million older men and women may remain in the labor force (Fullerton and Toossi, 2001).

These numbers represent a projected rise from 32.3 percent to 37.1 percent in the labor-force participation rate of people 55 and older between 2000 and 2010 (Fullerton and Toossi, 2001). Interestingly, the Bureau ofLabor and Statistics projects a modest decline in participation among men between the ages of 55 and 64. Women in this age group, however, are expected to continue to demonstrate growing labor-force attachment. An increase of two percentage points in the participation rate is projected for men and women 65 and older.

Projections, of course, are fraught with uncertainty, and recent labor-force projections may well underestimate the employment behavior of older Americans in coming years. After all, the actual 2001 participation rate for the 65-plus population exceeded the rate projected for 2oo8 (Fullerton, 1999).


Over the past two decades, Congress has enacted several pieces of legislation designed to foster prolonged attachment to the labor force: (1) a gradual rise in the age of eligibility for full Social Security benefits (referred to as the "normal retirement age," now age 65), starting with workers who turned 62 in 2000; (2) an increase in the delayed retirement credit for workers who forgo collecting their Social Security benefits until age 69; and (3) elimination of the Social Security earnings test for employed beneficiaries between the normal retirement age and age 69. In 1986, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) was amended to abolish mandatory retirement.

Workers give mixed signals about prolonging their work life. Proposals to raise the age of eligibility for Social Security benefits, for example, meet stiff opposition. The typical worker begins collecting Social Security before the socalled "normal retirement age," when the worker receives fill benefits and expects to continue to do so (AARP, 1998b; Taylor, 1999). In fact, given the choice, workers would apparently retire at far younger ages (AARP, 1998b; Yakoboski and Dickemper, 1997). Burtless and Quinn (2000) speculate that with the increase in work hours exhibited by prime-age workers in recent decades, Americans "may be paying for their longer and healthier retirements by working harder and more productively" when younger.

Annually, only about 2 percent of older men and women not in the labor force report that they would like a job, and only a minority of these look for work (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1995-2001). Yet, very high percentages of preretirees contend that they want or expect to work in retirement (AARP, 1998a; National Institute on Aging, 1993; Yakoboski and Dickemper, 1997). In the early 1990s, the Commonwealth Fund (1993) estimated that there were more than 5 million nonworkers age 55 and over who were willing and able to work. …

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