Today, more and more people are working later in life. Many workers want to – or have to – delay retirement, or return to work after retirement. By 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be 41.4 million workers age 55 and older, with their share of the total labor force reaching 25.2 percent that year, or 1 in 4 workers. This is clearly a new demographic wave in the workforce.
Older workers seeking to enter, re-enter or remain in the workforce face a unique set of challenges. Although older workers are less likely to become unemployed than younger workers, once they lose a job, they are likely to remain out of work longer and tend to experience sharper declines in wages than younger workers.
For older women workers, this can be an even more difficult situation. For example, older women are more likely to have financial hardship than older men, due in part to lower lifetime earnings. In 2012, the median weekly earnings of all full-time women workers was 81 percent of men’s. Because of this wage gap, women stand to lose upwards of $854,000 in wages over the course of their career. Furthermore, women in the U.S. tend to live, on average, about five years longer than men. So this means that they may have to survive longer on less money, contributing to the staggering 17.7 percent poverty rate among women aged 65 and older.
A recent roundtable hosted by the Women’s Bureau explored retirement patterns and the ways that they are changing in the wake of the Great Recession. The panelists considered barriers to employment such as age and sex discrimination. Panelist Judith Gilbert of the department’s Employment and Training Administration also brought attention to the need for employers “to be educated more about the value of older workers,” who can offer skills, experience and stability that many younger and less seasoned workers cannot.
The Women’s Bureau is committed to bridging the gaps that exist in education and analysis on this issue, which will require combined knowledge and expertise across a range of federal agencies to move us forward.
In this spirit, we plan to continue this conversation, both using national discussions like this one, and convening experts and advocates across the country through our regional offices to raise an issue that – as one of our speakers put it – does not get enough attention.
Many experienced older workers are ready, willing, and, most importantly, able to fill the demands of the labor force. It is up to us to encourage them to continue in the workplace by providing them with the desired work environment, hours of work, and benefits that they need to succeed.
Latifa Lyles is the acting director of the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau.