How Are Our Older Workers Doing?

May is Older Americans Month. Who are we calling old?

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics, for one. Next month we will celebrate our 135th birthday. Now that’s old! And we’ve been providing gold-standard information the entire time.
  • Today we are focusing on people age 65 and older.

In honor of Older Americans Month, let’s examine some fast facts about older workers. Many of these facts look over the last 30 years.

Employment

  • For workers age 65 and older, employment tripled from 1988 to 2018, while employment among younger workers grew by about a third.
  • Between 1988 and 2018, employment growth for women age 65 and older outpaced that for men.
  • Among people age 75 and older, the number of employed people nearly quadrupled, increasing from 461,000 in 1988 to 1.8 million in 2018.

Participation in the Labor Force

  • The labor force participation rate for older workers has been rising steadily since the late 1990s. Participation rates for younger age groups either declined or flattened over this period.

Chart showing labor force participation rates for people age 55 and older from 1988 to 2018

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Employment Projections

  • The total labor force is projected to increase by 6.6 percent from 2016 to 2026, while the number of workers age 65 and older is predicted to rise by 57.6 percent.
  • By 2026, workers age 65 and older are expected to account for 8.6 percent of the total labor force, up from 5.8 percent in 2016.
  • The labor force participation rate of people age 65 and older is projected to increase from 19.3 percent in 2016 to 21.8 percent in 2026. This contrasts with the overall labor force participation rate, which is expected to decrease from 62.8 percent to 61.0 percent.

Work Schedules

  • Over the past 20 years, the number of older workers on full‐time work schedules grew two and a half times faster than the number working part time.
  • Full‐timers now account for a majority among older workers—61 percent in 2018, up from 46 percent in 1998.

Earnings

  • In 1998, median weekly earnings of older full‐time employees were 77 percent of the median for workers age 16 and up. In 2018, older workers earned 7 percent more than the median for all workers.

Education

  • In 1998, 1 in 5 older workers had less than a high school education. By 2018, fewer than 1 in 10 older workers had less than a high school diploma.
  • The percentage of older workers with a college degree grew from 26 percent in 1998 to 42 percent in 2018.

Safety and Health

  • While fatal occupational injuries to all workers declined 17 percent from 1992 to 2017, workers age 65 and older incurred 66 percent more fatal work injuries in 2017 (775) than they did in 1992 (467).
  • Workers age 65 and older had a fatality rate that was nearly three times the rate for all workers in 2017.

Chart showing fatal injury rates by age from 2013 to 2017

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Want to know more? These statistical programs contributed data to this blog:

From an American worker’s first job to retirement and everything in between, BLS has a stat for that!

Labor force participation rates by age, 1988–2018 annual averages
Year 55–64 65–69 70–74 75 and older
1988 54.6 20.1 10.9 4.2
1989 55.5 20.8 11.2 4.3
1990 55.9 21.0 11.3 4.3
1991 55.5 20.6 10.9 4.4
1992 56.2 20.6 11.1 4.5
1993 56.4 20.3 10.9 4.3
1994 56.8 21.9 11.8 5.4
1995 57.2 21.8 12.5 4.7
1996 57.9 21.9 12.5 4.7
1997 58.9 22.5 12.6 4.8
1998 59.3 22.5 12.5 4.7
1999 59.3 23.0 13.1 5.1
2000 59.2 24.5 13.5 5.3
2001 60.4 24.7 14.1 5.2
2002 61.9 26.1 14.0 5.1
2003 62.4 27.4 14.6 5.8
2004 62.3 27.7 15.3 6.1
2005 62.9 28.3 16.3 6.4
2006 63.7 29.0 17.0 6.4
2007 63.8 29.7 17.2 6.8
2008 64.5 30.7 17.8 7.3
2009 64.9 31.1 18.4 7.3
2010 64.9 31.5 18.0 7.4
2011 64.3 32.1 18.8 7.5
2012 64.5 32.1 19.5 7.6
2013 64.4 32.2 19.2 7.9
2014 64.1 31.6 18.9 8.0
2015 63.9 32.1 18.6 8.2
2016 64.1 32.2 19.2 8.4
2017 64.5 32.3 19.7 8.3
2018 65.0 33.0 19.5 8.7
Rate of fatal work injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers by age
Year All workers 18 to 19 years 20 to 24 years 25 to 34 years 35 to 44 years 45 to 54 years 55 to 64 years 65 years and over
2013 3.3 2.6 2.2 2.5 2.8 3.4 4.1 9.2
2014 3.4 2.0 2.3 2.4 2.8 3.6 4.3 10.7
2015 3.4 2.1 2.7 2.3 2.7 3.5 4.3 9.4
2016 3.6 1.9 2.4 2.5 3.1 3.5 4.7 9.6
2017 3.5 2.6 2.2 2.5 2.9 3.3 4.6 10.3