Friday, September 19, 2008

United States: Older Workers Labor Participation Rates Examined

The Congressional Research Service has updated its research report on "Older Workers: Employment and Retirement Trends" to reflect census data suggesting that a trend of reduced participation in the labor force by older workers could affect economic growth. However, the report also notes that benefit changes may encourage higher participation rates.

Specifically, the data shows that while the number of people between the ages of 55 and 64 will grow by about 11 million between 2005 and 2025, the number of people who are 25 to 54 years old will grow by only 5 million. With respect to labor force participation, in 2007, 91% of men and 75% of women aged 25 to 54 participated in the labor force, but just 70% of men and 58% of women aged 55 to 64 were either working or looking for work.

On the other hand, the report notes that the rate of employment among persons age 55 and older is influenced by general economic conditions, eligibility for Social Security benefits, the availability of health insurance, and the prevalence and design of employer-sponsored pensions. Thus, participation rates among these older workers may be affected by the trend away from defined-benefit pension plans that offer a monthly annuity for life to defined contribution plans that typically pay a lump-sum benefit. In additin, the declining percentage of employers that offer retiree health insurance may result in more people continuing to work until they are eligible for Medicare at 65.

Source: Congressional Research Service Summary (September 15, 2008)

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