Posted on Saturday, January 15, 2011
THE American work force is getting older. More people over 55 are working while fewer people under that age are employed.
The Labor Department’s household survey in December found that 28.2 million people over 55 years of age had jobs, an increase of 7.6 percent from three years earlier, when the recession was beginning.
By contrast, there were fewer jobs held by people in all age groups under 55, as can be seen in the accompanying charts. Over all, the number of people working was down by 4.9 percent.
Thirty years ago, one in seven jobs in the United States was held by a person who was 55 or older. Today the proportion is one in five.
Changing demographics can explain part of the change. As baby boomers age, the number of people over 55 has increased. But another reason for the change seems to be that fewer older workers who have jobs are willing to retire while fewer younger people are even looking for work.
The fact that a lower proportion of people under 25 are in the labor force — either working or looking for work — could reflect a decision by more of them to further their education. But there is also a drop in labor force participation by workers older than 25.
Among men, the proportion of those 45 to 54 in the labor force has fallen to 86.2 percent. That is the lowest since the government began computing the figure in 1948. Similarly, the proportion of men 35 to 44 has dropped to 90.9 percent, also the lowest on record. The figure for men 25 to 34 hit a record low of 89 percent in November before ticking up to 89.1 percent in December.
Among women, the figures have also fallen, although the long-term trend toward more women working means that levels are well above where they were decades ago. Over all, the proportion of adult women in the work force is the lowest it has been since 1993.
All those figures are based on seasonally adjusted data released by the Labor Department. The department collects data on employment of narrower age ranges, but does not try to adjust the figures for seasonal variations. That makes it dubious to compare such figures except against the same month in earlier years.
The charts show the figures for last month versus the same month in 2007. In total, there are fewer workers in every age group under 55, and more workers in every age group over that age. The trends are the same for men, but vary a little for women. There are fewer women over 75 with jobs, and more within the age range of 50 to 54. There is also a small increase for the group 30 to 34 years of age.
By FLOYD NORRIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES