Labor Force Participation Rate Increases for Those Ages 55+

Employment Overview

The economy added 201,000 jobs in August, up from 147,000 jobs (revised down from 157,000) added in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) August Employment Situation Summary. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.9 percent.  Jobs were added in professional and business services, health care, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, and mining. While the overall labor force participation rate edged down to 62.7 percent from 62.9 percent in July, it increased slightly to 40.2 percent for those ages 55 and over. The overall number of unemployed decreased from 6.3 million in July to 6.2 million in August.

The number of people ages 55+ who were employed increased from 36.3 million in July to 36.5 million in August. The number of unemployed people ages 55 and older remained unchanged at 1.2 million. The unemployment rate for the 55+ remained at 3.1 percent for the third consecutive month but the percentage of long-term unemployed ages 55 and over rose to 29.5 percent.

Spotlight: Women and Age Discrimination

Age discrimination is prevalent in today’s workplace. According to a new AARP survey of individuals ages 45 and older, 61 percent of workers have either seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Unemployed people were more likely than employed people to say they had seen or experienced age discrimination. Thirty-eight percent of unemployed people believed they had not been hired for a job due to their age.

Research has found that the age discrimination problem is worse for older female jobseekers. A 2017 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco demonstrated a higher prevalence of age discrimination in hiring against older female jobseekers compared with their male counterparts. The field experiment  tested for hiring discrimination by using fictitious resumes for young (aged 29–31), middle-aged (aged 49–51), and older (aged 64–66) male and female job applicants. Though the callback rate was higher for younger applicants than for older applicants of both sexes, the differences were greatest in the callback rates for women. The highest callback rates were for women ages 29–31, lower for the applicants ages 49–51, and lowest for the women applicants ages 64–66. The AARP survey also found that women are more likely than men to say they have seen or experienced age discrimination (64 percent versus 59 percent). It also found that African American/Black workers were more likely than Hispanic/Latinos and Whites to say they had experienced age discrimination.

The BLS forecasts that the U.S. workforce will become older and more diverse over the coming decade, with the highest rates of increase among women ages 65 and older. “Women are staying in the workforce longer,” says Debbie Chalfie, a Senior Legislative Representative with AARP. “Hence confronting the issue of age and sex discrimination against older women workers should be a high priority for both policymakers and employers”.

Find more details on the latest employment data in the August Employment Data Digest, PPI’s monthly review of job trends for those ages 55 and over.

Jen Schramm is a senior strategic policy advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute. As part of the Financial Security Team, she identifies policy challenges and opportunities related to workers ages 50 and above. Through research and analyses of emerging employment trends, she develops policy options to inform AARP’s strategy on work and jobs, including helping older workers find and retain jobs.