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Elderly Workers Overtake Teens in U.S. Job Search: Chart of Day

U.S. employees old enough to retire are outnumbering their teenage counterparts for the first time since at least 1948, when Harry Truman was president, a sign of how generations are competing for scarce jobs.

The CHART OF THE DAY shows the number of people aged 65 and older in the labor force -- defined as those who are working or looking for work -- has averaged 6.6 million in the first half of this year, more than the 5.9 million workers between 16 and 19, according to the Labor Department. There are now 1.13 older workers for every teen, compared with 0.5 a decade ago. (For the full Interactive Insight version of this story, click here.)

Even after a year of economic growth, companies are reluctant to hire as the housing market weakens and manufacturing growth shows signs of slowing. The Labor Department said last week that private U.S. companies added 83,000 positions, fewer than economists had forecast. The average workweek and hourly earnings fell.

“Older workers need to replenish their 401-k plans, so those who have jobs are clinging to them rather than retiring,” Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, said in a telephone interview. Teenagers lose out because less-educated workers and those with shorter tenure are most vulnerable during a recession, she said.

The participation rate among those 65 and older has averaged 17.4 percent so far this year before seasonal adjustment, compared with an average 12.9 percent in 2000. Meanwhile, the rate among teenagers has shrunk to an average 34.5 percent, from 52 percent a decade ago.

Older workers are competing for some jobs with teens, a May 2010 report by Labor Department economist Teresa Morisi indicates. In food preparation and serving, the top category for teens, employment fell by 242,000 among 16-to-19 year-olds while rising by 128,000 among those 55 and older in the years from 2000 to 2009, the report shows.

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