Posts Tagged "labor force participation"

How Eager are Employers to Hire Boomers?

Older Americans’ share of the labor force has doubled since the early 1990s, and they constitute roughly one in four workers today.

But their dominance is mainly an artifact of the baby boomers’ demographic bulge moving through the labor force and says little about how employers view the growing ranks of aging workers.

Employers’ willingness to hire or retain older workers, especially when someone younger is available, is an important issue for a couple related reasons. Boomers are under increasing pressure to work as long as possible to improve their finances before retiring. It’s also easier for many to work well into their 60s since people are living longer and technological advances have reduced the physical requirements for some types of work.

But do employers want boomers on the payroll?

A study by Damir Cosic at the Congressional Budget Office and C. Eugene Steuerle at the Urban Institute finds some evidence that employers increasingly view them as pretty good substitutes for workers in their prime whose age – the mid-30s to mid-50s – and experience puts them at peak productivity. What distinguishes this research is its focus on understanding the demand for older workers, a departure from the many studies describing the changes in their labor supply.

The analysis turned on whether the growth in the older labor force has affected prime-aged workers’ wages. If, for example, their wages are increasing relative to the wages of workers over 55, this may indicate that employers are more willing to hire workers in their prime, because they have qualities the older workers lack.

If, however, the younger workers’ wages are declining relative to boomers’ wages as the growing supply of older workers puts some downward pressure on pay, employers may view the boomers as acceptable substitutes for their younger counterparts and are equally willing to employ them.

The researchers found that employers viewed older workers as increasingly attractive substitutes over the period 2000 through 2018. This trend was clearly evident in several specific industries, including utilities, real estate, information, government, finance, transportation, and wholesale. …Learn More

One Reason the US Labor Force is Shrinking

U.S. industries have become increasingly concentrated in the 21st century, leaving fewer employers in local labor markets. This is not good for workers.

The simplest example is a town with one company in the business of producing widgets. The company has little competition when hiring widget workers and can pay them lower wages.

A new study finds that the increase in employer concentration – one or a few firms that dominate locally – has played a role in the 20-year decline in labor force participation in the United States. When workers have fewer employment options and wages are lower, looking for and finding a job is a more difficult, less fruitful pursuit. Some give up and drop out of the labor force.

Employer concentration “push[es] marginally attached workers out of the labor force entirely,” concluded Anqi Chen, Laura Quinby and Gal Wettstein at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

Their research builds on several recent studies showing that when firms possess more bargaining power with workers, they can drive down wages. This new study is the first to make a direct link between employer concentration and its impact on employment activity.

Labor force participation – the share of adults of all ages who are either working or looking for a job – is lower in concentrated markets, the researchers found. Actual employment levels are also lower, though this is mainly the case for teenagers and workers in their 20s. …
Learn More

COVID Hasn’t Pushed Boomers into Retiring

Three months into the pandemic, a few million older workers had been laid off or quit. But what happened next?

The rapid drop in employment due to COVID gave the Center for Retirement Research an unusual opportunity to study the labor force decisions of baby boomers, who are within striking distance of retirement age but may or may not be ready to take the leap.

Traditionally, older workers who left a job tended to retire. But there was little indication that the people who stopped working during the pandemic saw retirement as their best fallback option.

This conclusion by the researchers is consistent with the pre-COVID trend of boomers working longer to put themselves in a better financial position when they eventually do retire. In fact, many older workers have returned to the labor force as the economy has rebounded and vaccines have become widely available.

Little impact on older workers retiringBut in April 2020, job departures spiked before settling back down at a new, much higher level. The annual pace of departures increased from 15 percent of workers 55 and over in 2019, prior to COVID, to 23 percent in 2020.

The researchers found a surprise when they looked at who stopped working. Although older people are vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from COVID, age wasn’t a big factor in their decisions. Boomers in their 60s were no more likely to leave their jobs than people in their mid- to late-50s, according to the analysis of monthly Census Bureau surveys.

The groups most likely to leave the labor force were women, Asian-Americans, and workers who either don’t have a college degree or don’t have a job that easily lends itself to working remotely.

But among all of the age 55-plus workers in the study, the share reporting that they had retired barely increased, from an average of 12 percent prior to COVID to 13 percent last year.

The only people who left their jobs and retired in significant numbers during the pandemic were over 70. This finding reinforced what the researchers found in data from the U.S. Social Security Administration: the pandemic didn’t have a major impact on retirement because the share of workers between 62 and 70 who signed up for Social Security was relatively flat between April 2019 and June 2021. …Learn More

Woman with mental health problems

Recessions Hit Depressed Workers Hard

Anyone who’s suffered through depression knows it can be difficult to get out of bed, much less find the energy to go to work. Mental illness has been on the rise, and depression and myriad other symptoms get in the way of being a productive employee.

So it’s not surprising that men and women with mental illness are much less likely to be employed than people who have no symptoms. But the problem gets worse in a recession.

In 2008, the first year of the Great Recession, the economy slowed sharply as 2.6 million workers lost their jobs. During that time, people who suffered from mental illness left the labor force at a much faster pace than everyone else, according to a new study from the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.

The researchers compared average labor force participation, as reported in the National Health Interview Survey, for three periods. Two periods of consistent economic growth bracketed a period that included the onset of the Great Recession: 1997-1999, 2006-2008, and 2015-2017.

Labor force participation for people with no mental illness dipped less than 1 percent between the late 1990s and the period that included the recession. By 2015-2017, roughly three out of four of them were still in the labor force – only slightly below pre-recession levels.

Contrast this relative stability to large declines in activity for people with mental illness – the more severe the condition, the steeper the drop. Participation fell 17 percent among people with the most severe forms of mental illness between the late 1990s and the period that included the recession. By 2015-2017, only 38 percent of them remained in the labor force – well below pre-recession levels. …Learn More

People in their Prime are Working Less

Line graph showing labor force participation since 1990The decline in Americans’ labor force activity started around the year 2000 and accelerated after the 2008-2009 recession. Labor force participation is now at its lowest level since the 1970s.

The main reason for the drop is our aging population. But the news in a systematic review of current research in this area is a more troubling trend that’s also driving it: people in their prime working years – ages 25 through 54 – are falling out of the labor force.

Prime-age men are the most active members of the labor force. Yet in 2017, only 89.1 percent of them were either working or seeking a job, down from 91.5 percent in 2000, according to the review by University of Southern California economists.

Prime-age women’s labor force activity also fell, to 75.2 percent in 2017 from about 77 percent in 2000. This decline ends decades in which women were streaming into the nation’s workplaces at an increasing rate. One possible reason for the leveling off is the scarcity of family-friendly policies, including more generous childcare assistance.

The forces pushing and pulling various groups in and out of the labor force make it difficult to pin down the primary reasons for the overall drop in participation. The decline among prime-age men and women may be tied to opioid addiction, alcoholism, and suicide. Other studies point to the surge in incarcerations of black men.

And while technological advances like robots and growing trade with China have increased the need for many highly skilled workers, they have reduced the demand for less-educated, lower-paid people, including U.S. factory workers, in their peak working years. The resulting fall in their wages has also made work less attractive to them. …Learn More

Baby Boomer Labor Force Rebounds

One way baby boomers adjust to longer lifespans and inadequate retirement savings is to continue working. There’s just one problem: it can be more difficult for some people in their 50s and 60s to get or hold on to a job.

But things are improving. The job market is on a tear – 300,000 people were hired in January alone – and baby boomers are jumping back in. A single statistic illustrates this: a bump up in their labor force participation that resumes a long-term trend of rising participation since the 1980s.

In January, 65.1 percent of Americans between ages 55 and 64 were in the labor force, up smartly from 63.9 percent in 2015. This has put a halt to a downturn that began after the 2008-2009 recession, which pushed many boomers out of the labor force. The labor force is made up of people who are employed or looking for work.

The recent gains don’t seem transitory either. According to a 2024 projection by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the older labor force will continue to grow.  The biggest change will be among the oldest populations: a 4.5 percent increase in the number of 65- to 74-year olds in the labor force, and a 6.4 percent increase over age 75. …Learn More