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Will Older Workers Ever Get to Stop Working?


Pinched by falling asset values, older Americans are returning to the labor force—or clinging to the jobs they already have.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.5% of Americans 65 and older were employed in July, up from 15.5% in 2007. More specifically:

* Among those ages 65 to 69, 29% are employed now, versus 28.7% in 2007.

* Among those ages 70 to 74, 17.5% are employed now, versus 16.6% in 2007.

* Among those ages 75+, 7.2% are currently employed, compared with 6.6% in 2007.

Moreover, the percentage of unemployed people age 65 and older has jumped sharply—from 3.3% in 2007 to 6.7% in July, according to BLS data.  “In July, older workers had an average duration of unemployment of” 52.7 weeks, compared with 20.2 weeks in Dec. 2007, according to AARP Public Policy Institute, which looked at job seekers 55 and over.

“There is no question but that the impact of this recession on the unemployment rate of older workers has been far more dramatic than in previous recessions,” says Sara Rix, a policy analyst at AARP. “We have sustained rates of unemployment for the older workforce that are far higher than at any time in the past 60 years.”

“In contrast to previous recessions, more older workers are staying in the labor force longer as unemployed because they really do want and need a job,” says Ms. Rix.

What people may not realize is that participation in the labor force by older workers has been increasing steadily since the 1990s. Among the causes of the long-term trend are:

* A shift towards less physically demanding jobs.

* Steady gains in life expectancy

* Reductions in defined benefit pension plans

* Cuts in Social Security, including the increase in the full retirement age that’s being phased in through 2022

Yet another factor is the rising skill level of those at retirement age. In contrast to past retirees, economists say, today’s have the same level of education as entry-level workers do—with lots more experience. As a result, in comparison with previous generations, they are more attractive to employers.

With Congress contemplating further reductions in Social Security, as well as cuts to Medicare benefits, the trend towards working later in life is here to stay.

As a recent Wall Street Journal article reported:

“More than three in five U.S. workers in their 50s and 60s plan on working past 65 — and 47% of that group say they’ll do so because they’ll need the money or health benefits, according to a 2011 study from the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.”


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    • Yes, we live in an age-biased society today. If are an older worker and you wish to work in a your 45+ years, you need to have a skill set that most young people today do not possess; there are jobs that do exists for this case, if you have that skill set and find the right company. Yes, you have to do a lot of homework to find that niche for you. I manage to find such an opportunity being over 50. You can compete with the younger gen, if you keep your skills sharp and can demonstrate that your abilities and skill can match and/or exceed someone in their late 20′s or early 30′s. When I hear older people can’t compete with the younger generation, that is pure bunk! I am not saying it is easier to find that job or a job, but if you are patient and can find that right opportunity for yourself, you can.

    • I am 79 years old. I finished the 9th grade. I went on my own at 14 and haven’t missed a pay day since. From 1956 until I retired the first time, I was in the top 10% wage earners in the US except for three years. At fifteen I made up my mine I was going to have more than one thing to earn a living.When I retired I had over 10 that would furnish me and my family with a good living. In my 64 years of working I have did a lot of things I didn’t want too, But I wanted a payday.

    • “today’s have the same level of education as entry-level workers do—with lots more experience. As a result, in comparison with previous generations, they are more attractive to employers.”

      This is such a load of crap. You can’t get a job unless you are between the ages of 25-32. I have been unemployed for over a year and I don’t even look old. The whole experience has made me so angry that I am willing to vote for a Che Guevarra. I want to crash this entire economy so we can start over.

    • It would have been interesting to continue this story and compare the numbers to say European countries.

About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.