In today’s world, the notion of an older person reaching their 60s and completely leaving the labor force is simply outdated. An AARP analysis of the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey found that close to one-third of retirees have worked for pay since retiring, and according to a TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies report, two-thirds of Boomers plan on (or already are) working past the traditional retirement age of 65 . . . or never retiring at all.
Over the next six years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the 65 to 74 year old and 75+ age groups will be the fastest growing segments of the U.S. labor market. By 2024, approximately 25 percent of the U.S. workforce will be age 55 and up. That’s 41 million people, including 13 million age 65 and older.
There are a number of reasons for this trend. On the plus side, today’s older Americans are healthier, better educated, and living longer than prior generations. ( Though lower income Americans are not enjoying the same increased life expectancy as those with higher-incomes.) Many like their jobs and don’t see a need to leave the workforce as early as their parents and grandparents did. Instead, folks see work as contributing to their well-being, with “being active” and “keeping my brain alert” the #2 and #3 reasons workers cite for planning to work past age 65.
But, this isn’t a 100 percent good news story. The top reason for planning to stay in workforce after retirement is to generate income. And, about four in ten (39%) current retirees who have worked for pay post-retirement did so to make ends meet. The reality is that longer life expectancy means retirement savings need to stretch farther. Today, the median balance in 401k/IRA accounts for workers age 55-64 is $111,000, fewer American workers have traditional defined benefit pensions, and close to 55 million don’t have access to a retirement savings plan at work. More than half of the 42 million Americans age 65 and up who get Social Security benefits rely on Social Security for most of their family income.
It’s also important to keep in mind that continuing to work isn’t a good option for everyone. More than 10 million Americans age 58 and up have jobs that are physically demanding or with difficult working conditions. These workers may need to retire earlier because they have trouble keeping up with the particular demands of their jobs as they age.
So how are employers responding to so many older Americans wanting – or needing – to keep working? Some are taking full advantage of everything older workers have to offer . . . knowledge and experience, professionalism and a strong work ethic that reduces employee turnover, to name a few. More than 500 organizations have signed on to AARP’s Employer Pledge Program, affirming the value of experienced workers and a commitment to an age-diverse workforce.
But, unfortunately, outdated and unfair stereotypes about older workers persist. Nearly two-thirds of older workers report having seen or experienced discrimination in the workplace. And, older job seekers often struggle to get hired. It likely isn’t a coincidence that older workers are more likely than to be self-employed. Sure, their experience and access to resources puts them in a good position to start businesses, but for some it may be a fall back plan when a job search doesn’t pan out.
That’s why AARP is working hard to support older Americans in retirement AND as they keep working . . . through our Employer Pledge Program, virtual job fairs and workshops for 50+ job seekers . . . through our advocacy to maintain and strengthen the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and other legal protections as well as Medicare and Social Security . . . and, when warranted, through litigation to defend anti-discrimination policies in court. True to our mission, we are committed to helping the 50+ choose HOW to live as they age and that includes staying in the workforce.
Nancy LeaMond is AARP chief advocacy and engagement officer. She leads the organization’s Communities, State and National Group, including government relations, advocacy and public education for AARP’s social change agenda. LeaMond also has responsibility for AARP’s state operation, which includes offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
You can follow her on Twitter @NancyLeaMond.