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Business

September 16, 2012

Older Americans staying in the fight for jobs

Numbers of those 65 and older working or looking for jobs highest in half a century.


WASHINGTON — Millions of workers in their prime have dropped out of the labor market in recent years, but many older Americans are delaying retirement and being added to the workforce in record numbers.

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans ages 65 and older are working or looking for jobs — the highest in almost half a century.

The labor participation rates for other age groups have slid since the recession began at the end of 2007, most sharply for younger adults but also for people in their prime working years, their 30s to 50s.

The contrasting employment paths of seniors and other age groups reflect a long-term population and lifestyle shift intensified by the recession. And the trend has significant implications for the broader economy.

Having more older workers in the job market helps the country's precarious fiscal situation; by working, they're paying Social Security and other taxes rather than drawing public retirement and Medicare funds. The share of seniors claiming Social Security benefits fell last year to the lowest level since 1976.

But there is a trade-off: In this lackluster economy, the increasing employment of seniors means fewer jobs for their younger counterparts. Apart from the direct financial hit to individuals, the shift represents a big collective loss of purchasing power.

Young adults and prime-age workers spend comparatively more money because they are more apt to move, start families, send children to school and buy the latest gadgets. Consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the economy, and it has been sluggish during this recovery.

"One of the reasons is young people can't find jobs because older people are not leaving the workforce," said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at California State University-Channel Islands who has studied the issue. Discouraged, many younger workers are staying in school longer or sitting on the sidelines until their prospects improve.

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