Study: More Elder Workers In the Workforce

May 21, 2003 ( - With Americans living longer while coping with concerns about their dwindling retirement savings, the number of people at least 65 years old who are working or looking for work has shot up by 50% in the last two decades.

According to a new US Census Bureau report, the number of workers and job seekers 65+ years old was nearly 4.5 million in March 2002, up from the three million in 1980, according to an Associated Press report.

With the economy stumbling since then, that number probably is higher now, said Edward Coyle, executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans. “People are more nervous now than they were a year ago,” Coyle told the AP. “You have lots of folks approaching retirement age, scratching their heads and wondering if they can do it.”

While some seniors have simply delayed retirement and others have taken the opportunity to open small businesses, many were forced back into the labor market. Most of these people took low-level administrative or service jobs, which were plentiful during the late 1990s, said Jared Bernstein, an economist with Economic Policy Institute.

More than 15% of 65-and-over employees worked in sales in 2002, the largest share of any occupation, followed by professional fields, like architecture or medicine, and clerical jobs.

Congress voted in 1983 to raise the retirement age from 65 to 67 by 2027, a change which may have encouraged some older workers in the 1980s and 1990s to put off retirement even though the change didn’t immediately affect them, John Haaga, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a research group, told the AP.

Other reasons cited by Haaga: People are living longer, healthier lives and feel like working longer, and an increasing number of women have returned to work after raising children. Social Security insolvency concerns and fretting about the still faltering US economy have played roles too, Bernstein said.

The latest Census Bureau data comes from a nationwide survey of 70,000 homes in March 2002 that covered a range of socioeconomic characteristics, from income to education.