As America's workforce continues to expand, with unemployment down and wages growing, another phenomenon is at work. The workforce is also aging. According to a new analysis of Labor Department data by the Liscio Report, about half of all employment gains in 2018 were from Americans age 55 or older. In fact, the portion of Americans in that age group now in the workforce is at its highest level since 1961--39.2 percent.
Employment analysts see several factors at play in the increase in older workers. "People 55 and up are working longer and later into their lives, but they're also being enticed back into the labor market," says Andy Challenger with the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "After the Great Recession, a lot of those workers became discouraged and left the job market altogether, but in today's very tight labor market we're seeing them drawn back into working part or full time."
Indeed, the Great Recession of a decade ago seems to be one of the biggest reasons so many Americans are now working (or going back to work) later in life. "Their financial security was really affected by the 2008 recession," says Challenger. "A lot of those 401(k) and pension funds took a real hit, and so they now have to work longer in life."
While many older Americans have to work longer, others simply want to and are still able to be active and productive. Challenger tells KTRH this is the nature of the baby boomer generation. "Older workers can work longer these days---that's one piece of it," he says. "They are healthier and more well-educated than generations prior to them."
For those that want to work later in life, the jobs are certainly there. Recent Labor Department figures show there are more than one million more job openings than unemployed workers nationwide.