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Workforce

American Workers Are Older Than Ever


American Workers Are Older Than Ever

Illustration by Braulio Amado

The U.S. workforce has never been older. The share of workers ages 55 and over hit 22.2 percent in July, according to data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the highest since record-keeping began in 1948.

As this first chart shows, older workers’ share of the workforce briefly dipped below 12 percent in the early 1990s but has risen steeply ever since. The population bulge of the baby boom is the big factor, of course. The peak birth year of the baby boom was 1957. Those peak boomers, no longer babies, reached age 55 in 2012—the first year older workers’ share of employment hit 21 percent.

The second chart is proof of the power of demographics. It shows how people aged 55 and up have increased as a share of the adult U.S. population (defined by the BLS as people 16 and up).

Shouldn’t those boomers be retiring? They don’t seem to think so. As this third chart shows, two decades ago, the share of people 55 and up who were still in the labor force was just 30 percent. But as boomers have started entering that cohort, the participation rate has jumped to 40 percent.

Most of these older employed are putting in long days, too. Only 21 percent of older workers are in part-time jobs, vs. 27 percent two decades ago.

John Lonski, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics (MCO), spotted the record share of older workers while perusing last Friday’s release of July employment data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He sees it as a bad sign for U.S. income growth. “Intuitively,” he writes in a research note today, “this age cohort ought to show slower wage growth … compared to the overall workforce.” He wrote that “the forthcoming re-entry of retiring baby boomers into the workforce will rein in wage growth.”

Coy_190
Coy is Bloomberg Businessweek's economics editor. His Twitter handle is @petercoy.

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