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Older Workers a Growing Share of the Workforce

Older Workers a Growing Share of the Workforce

By    |   Friday, 15 December 2023 11:41 AM EST

People age 65 and older still working has surged from 47% of the workforce in 1987 to 62% this year, driven by lower-income people’s need for the money and wealthier people’s pursuit of fulfillment, The Washington Post reports.

Nearly one out of five, 19%, of Americans 65 an older were employed this year, up from 11% in 1987, according to a report by the Pew Research Center.

Improved health among seniors and a myriad of other factors have enabled older folks to keep working. The move to flexible and hybrid work during the pandemic certainly is a big reason, along with part-time positions and pivots to new careers.

Inflation, the state of the economy and stock market volatility have also prompted many older people to keep working.

Boomers have also remained in or returned to the workforce because they cannot get their full Social Security benefits until age 67, while many companies continue to scrap their pension plans, leaving people on the hook to fund their retirement on their own.

“The old prototype retirement — where you work somewhere 40 years, then they throw you a party and give you a gold watch, and you never work again — just isn't the case for most people anymore,” says Joseph Quinn, an economics professor at Boston College. “Today's workers are retiring gradually, in stages.”

“In some ways, this isn't surprising: We're an aging society,” says Richard Fry, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center and lead author of the study. “But it isn't just that there are more older adults in the workforce, it's that a larger share of them are working. And it tends to be better-educated, older adults with a college degree.”

Would-be retirees who have opted to keep working tell compelling stories why they’re still at it.

“I'm the kind of person who has to always be doing something,” says Fred Lilikes, 65, who retired in June 2020 but quickly found another information technology within a few months. “I can't sit still.”

Lilikes, who lives outside Phoenix, says his new job gives him purpose, a reason to leave the house and financial stability — he's making double what he would just collecting Social Security.

Leonora Reiley, 63, of Virginia retired twice — first in 2019 after a 33-years as a public high school teacher, and then in 2021 after teaching at a Catholic school.

Reiley is once again back to work as a substitute teacher at a private school teaching eighth-grade English.

“It's all of the fun of teaching without any of the horror,” she says. “It's fun, and it keeps my brain going.”

Yet another benefit for mature, college-educated workers is the pay gap between them and younger workers has been shrinking. Workers 65 and older earned a median hourly wage of $22 in 2022, a mere $3 less than younger workers. This is a marked improvement from the $8 median hourly pay gap among older workers in 1987.

But there are those who are still working in their 60s and their 70s out of necessity. Diana Bryan, a 73-year old widow, is still working as a software engineer to pay down an adjustable-rate mortgage. Her bill increased again, by $550 a month, in September.

“I’m selling my home now in order to retire by the end of 2024,” Bryan says. “Wish I didn’t have to.”

Then there are those who have little to no retirement savings. Nearly half of adults between 55 and 66 had no personal retirement savings in 2017, according to census data.

However, according to the Federal Reserve, the median retirement savings among all families in 2022 was $87,000. People between 55 and 64 had an average retirement savings balance of $537,560, and people 65 to 74 had $609,230. Stretching out this money over 20 years or longer, especially in an inflationary environment, the savings figures are not as large as they may seem.

Quinn says of older workers who are working because they need the money: “The thing to remember is that there’s also a group of people in the labor force in later ages who wish they weren’t. They’re old, they’re tired, they’re poor, and they have no choice.”

The large number of older people in the workforce is, admittedly, lowering job and career prospects for younger folks. This has caused a new, recent twist for new college graduates to be more likely to be without a job than older workers.

The economic professor Quinn says he is a prime example of this:

“As soon as I leave, they’re going to hire some fabulous, new, wonderful junior person who deserves this job as much as I do.”

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People age 65 and older still working has surged from 47% of the workforce in 1987 to 62% this year, driven by lower-income people's need for the money and wealthier people's pursuit of fulfillment, The Washington Post reports.
retirement, work, older worker, inflation, savings
Friday, 15 December 2023 11:41 AM
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