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Justin Fox

The 55-and-Older Labor Market Exodus Is a Statistical Mirage

People in their late 50s and early 60s haven’t stopped working, and for those over 65, workforce participation declines have been smaller than generally portrayed.

Still part of the workforce.

Still part of the workforce.

Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

I’m in my late 50s and I’m on the job. So are more than 70% of Americans aged 55 through 59, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, my age group’s labor-force participation rate was approaching record levels earlier this year before undergoing its usual summer decline.

As a result, I tend to bristle a little whenever I read about the big drop in labor-force participation among Americans 55 and older and its supposed adverse effects on the labor market and the economy. It is true that, as of August, the labor-force participation rate for the entire 55-plus age group was, at a seasonally adjusted 38.6%, down 1.7 percentage points from just before the pandemic in February 2020 and near its lowest level in 15 years. But as I’ve already demonstrated, those of us in our late 50s aren’t the problem. We’re still working at record rates!