Saturday, August 23, 2014

"Working" It Out

It is routinely reported that 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring every day, and yet surveys continue to indicate that Americans plan to postpone retirement.

This raises the question: are more older Americans working?

A recent Wall Street Journal article notes (subscription required) that one of the biggest changes in the U.S. labor market over the past two decades has been the increasing number of people working over the age of 55. As recently as 1993, only 29% of people that age were in the labor force, but by 2012 more than 41% of that age group were still in the labor force, the highest since the early 1960s.

It’s hard to find a workplace survey these days that doesn’t find workers planning to work past the traditional retirement age of 65. For example, a recent survey by the Federal Reserve found that fewer than one in five workers age 55 to 64 planned to follow the traditional retirement model of working full time until a set date and then stop working altogether.

A recent report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) noted that the percentage of civilian, noninstitutionalized Americans near or at retirement age (age 55 or older) in the labor force declined from 34.7% in 1975 to 29.4% in 1993. However, since then the overall labor-force participation rate of this group has increased steadily, reaching 40.5% in 2012 — the highest level over the 1975-2013 period — before decreasing to 40.3% in 2013.

Venus and Mars?
The labor-force participation rate for men ages 55 and older followed the same pattern through 2010, falling from 49.4% in 1975 to 37.7% in 1993 before increasing to 46.4% in 2010, roughly where it stood in 2013. On the other hand, the labor-force participation rate of women in this age group was essentially flat from 1975 to 1993 (23.1% and 22.8%, respectively). But after 1993, the women’s rate also increased, reaching its highest level in 2010 (35.1%), where it remained though 2013.

The increase in labor-force participation for the age groups below age 65 was primarily driven by the increases in female labor-force participation rates, as the male labor-force participation rates of those ages 55-59 and 60-64 were lower in 2013 than they were in 1975. In contrast, female labor-force participation rates for those ages 55-59 and 60-64 increased sharply from 1975 to 2013, despite some leveling off in 2010-2013.

The Journal article draws on some Department of Labor data that show that while there are fewer men working at every age, at any given age, more men were working in 2013 than in 2000. By way of example, the article notes that at the turn of the century, about 66% of 60-year-old men and 20% of 70-year-old men were still in the labor force — participation rates that stand today at 72% and 25%, respectively.

So, while there are clearly more people retiring, and thus more not working, there also appear to be more older individuals (on a percentage of workforce basis) working today — though perhaps not as many as once thought they might.

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