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And it’s off to work we go.

The American workforce just keeps aging. Here’s one more signal that our working years are expanding before our very eyes.

The labor-force participation rate for those age 55 and older remained at its recent highs in 2011, according to a new report by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). “This upward trend is not surprising and is likely to continue,” EBRI’s Craig Copeland, author of the report, says.




Here are the report’s findings:

  • Specifically, the percentage of Americans near or at retirement age (age 55 or older) has been rising steadily since 1993, when it stood at 29.4 percent, reaching 40.2 percent in 2010 (it remained at that level in 2011).
  • For men age 55 and older, the labor force participation rate grew from 1975 to 2010, before flattening out or slightly decreasing to 46.3 percent in 2011.
  • Among women age 55 and older, the labor force participation rate grew from 22.8 percent in 1993 to 35.1 percent in 2010, its highest level, where it remained in 2011.
  • The 1975 rate for females ages 55–59 was 47.9 percent, compared with 67.7 percent in 2011.
  • But among those age 65 and older, labor-force participation increased for both males and females.

And it’s not because of the recent economic blues we’ve been battling. The EBRI researchers emphasize that this remains the trend because there are more opportunities for older workers out there (although they don’t say where), and there’s a greater need for them to keep plugging away to bank sufficient or adequate resources for retirement.

Let me remind you of the three blessings of working longer:

1. The more earning years you can build savings in a defined contribution plan like a 401 (k), the better off you’ll be down the road when you’re really too frail to work.

2. It allows you to delay tapping retirement funds longer, while they hopefully continue to build-up.

3. And, of course, the elephant in the room– workers’ have a very real need for continued access to employment-based health insurance. Employment-based retiree health insurance is increasingly scarce, and those who do have it are likely finding that their contribution to that cost is ramping up.

Among large firms (200 or more workers) about one in four offered retiree health benefits in 2011, down significantly from 32% in 2007, and a far cry from the whopping 66% who offered retirees health bennies in 1988, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research & Educational Trust survey. And only 6 percent of small firms offered retiree health benefits last year.

Other nuances from the report:

  • Education is a strong factor in an individual’s participation in the labor force at older ages, as individuals with higher levels of education are significantly more likely to be in the labor force than those with lower levels of education.
  • The 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) found that a growing percentage of workers expect to retire at later ages “both for the reasons described above and/or because of an increased desire to continue to work.”

Yep, mental engagement and doing work that matters later in life is something that makes it, well, not seem like work at all.

The report is based on the latest U.S. Census Bureau data and is published in the February 2012 EBRI Notes, “Labor-force Participation Rates of the Population Age 55 and Older, 2011: After the Economic Downturn,” available online at  For more on working in your “retirement” years, check out this video below with Kevin E. Cahill, a research economist with The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College.  

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