Bridging the Gap: Older Americans in the Workforce

Filed in DOL, Women by on November 4, 2013 2 Comments

Today, more and more people are working later in life. Many workers want to – or have to – delay retirement, or return to work after retirement. By 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be 41.4 million workers age 55 and older, with their share of the total labor force reaching 25.2 percent that year, or 1 in 4 workers. This is clearly a new demographic wave in the workforce.

Older workers seeking to enter, re-enter or remain in the workforce face a unique set of challenges. Although older workers are less likely to become unemployed than younger workers, once they lose a job, they are likely to remain out of work longer and tend to experience sharper declines in wages than younger workers.

For older women workers, this can be an even more difficult situation. For example, older women are more likely to have financial hardship than older men, due in part to lower lifetime earnings. In 2012, the median weekly earnings of all full-time women workers was 81 percent of men’s. Because of this wage gap, women stand to lose upwards of $854,000 in wages over the course of their career. Furthermore, women in the U.S. tend to live, on average, about five years longer than men. So this means that they may have to survive longer on less money, contributing to the staggering 17.7 percent poverty rate among women aged 65 and older.

A recent roundtable hosted by the Women’s Bureau explored retirement patterns and the ways that they are changing in the wake of the Great Recession. The panelists considered barriers to employment such as age and sex discrimination. Panelist Judith Gilbert of the department’s Employment and Training Administration also brought attention to the need for employers “to be educated more about the value of older workers,” who can offer skills, experience and stability that many younger and less seasoned workers cannot.

The Women’s Bureau is committed to bridging the gaps that exist in education and analysis on this issue, which will require combined knowledge and expertise across a range of federal agencies to move us forward.

In this spirit, we plan to continue this conversation, both using national discussions like this one, and convening experts and advocates across the country through our regional offices to raise an issue that – as one of our speakers put it – does not get enough attention.

Many experienced older workers are ready, willing, and, most importantly, able to fill the demands of the labor force. It is up to us to encourage them to continue in the workplace by providing them with the desired work environment, hours of work, and benefits that they need to succeed.

Latifa Lyles is the acting director of the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau.


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Comments (2)

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  1. Karl Jaensch says:

    The chart doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the point you’re making in your article. The chart shows that women make up an increasingly larger share of the total labor force and men make up an increasingly smaller share, not that both are working longer into the traditional retirement age.

    The DOL Women’s Bureau presumably welcomes that a larger proportion of all women are in the labor force. However, the chart suggests that this is not necessarily due mostly to increased acceptability of women/more opportunities for women in the labor force (though these welcomed developments surely are factors as well).

    The tipoff is the almost flat “total” labor force participation rate and the converging labor force participation rates of women and men.

    With increased automation and the transfer of many jobs out of the USA, one would think that the “total” rate would go down, not slightly up as the chart shows.

    You won’t like what I’m going to say now but bear with me: In the 60’s men tended to hold the “real” jobs (long-term, hard, production work) and women got other kinds of jobs.

    The “real” (i.e., men’s) jobs are the ones that are vulnerable to being automated or exported and this is a reason, I think, why the labor force particiation of men has gone down (not because women have taken jobs away from men even though, as the chart shows, men’s labor force participation has decreased almost exactly as much as women’s labor force participation has increased over time).

    Instead, a much greater proportion of the jobs that are left in the US economy are the “other kinds of jobs” that women used to do even in the 60’s. So it’s not suprising that a larger share of the female population is employed now and a smaller share of the male population is employed now. Both now are doing “other kinds of jobs” (most of which unfortunately have remained low pay, just as they were in the 60’s when they were held mostly by women).

    And the total labor force participation rate is flat/slightly up because we want/need more services than we used to. The US labor force is mostly taking in each others’ washing (serving each other in various ways) rather than producing things.

  2. Bob Cohen says:

    I see this many women over 50 in my classes at community colleges. One of the issues with continued and re-employment for older workers of both sexes is the ability to use newer technologies required in the workforce.

    While younger adults seem to pick up newer technogies like mobile and social, older adults struggle and cannot find ways to catch up in schools and educational programs.

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