Study: More Older Workers Staying Put in Workforce

July 25, 2003 ( - Driven by retirement savings accounts hit hard by the slumping markets and the increasing numbers of older people without health insurance, more older Americans are staying in the labor force than ever, according to a new study.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) said that the share of those between the ages of 55 and 64 (who EPI calls “near elderly”) who were in the labor force by the end of 2002 either working or unemployed rose to 62.9% – it’s peak in the post-war era.

EPI said the share of the 55 to 64-year-olds still working has grown rapidly in recent years. From the end of 2000 to the end of 2002, the number of near elderly in the workforce has increased 3.1%. In the previous 15 years, the increase in the number of near elderly in the workforce totaled only 5.5%, or 0.4% per year.

The acceleration of the share of the near elderly in the labor force has been attributed to a loss in retirement savings as the stock market crashed in early 2000, decreasing access to health insurance for early retirees, and rising health care costs for the near elderly and the elderly, EPI researchers said.

More of the near elderly are in the labor force because older workers are staying in the labor force longer instead of retiring, not because people who had already been retired are returning to the labor force, EPI said.