The 50-Plus Job Market: 5 Trends to Watch

Working longer is a mantra these days for many Americans hoping to build greater retirement security. Staying on the job even a few years beyond traditional retirement age makes it easier to delay filing for Social Security; it also can mean more years contributing to retirement accounts and fewer years of depending on nest eggs for living expenses.

But since the Great Recession, staying employed has been easier said than done for all workers. The economy has continued to mend gradually, and the job market has improved. How are older workers faring? The picture is mixed.

More older workers are participating in the labor force, and they experience lower unemployment rates than younger workers. Still, problems remain. Most workers think age discrimination by employers is commonplace. And older workers who do lose their jobs tend to be out of work longer and earn less when they do secure new employment.

If you’re in the ramp-up years to retirement and aspire to stay employed past traditional retirement age, here are five key trends to watch.

1. Desire to work longer is rising.

Reasons for work in retirement - AARPv1An AARP survey released earlier this year found that 70% of Americans plan to work in retirement. But that doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to the schedule–or work–that they’re doing now. Twenty-nine percent plan to work part time because they enjoy working; 23% said they’d work part time because they need the income. Thirteen percent intend to start a business or work for themselves; 5% expect to retire and work full time in a new career.

Another trend that is gathering steam is the encore career–second careers focused on social engagement and meaning. Interest in encore careers rose by 17% from 2011 to 2014, according to a survey by, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the encore concept.

Participation in the labor force–that is, the percent of people working or actively seeking work–is rising among older workers. In July, 40.1% of 55-plus workers were in the market, up from 38.9% when the recession started. Most experts expect that figure to continue ticking upward in the years ahead. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts that 67.5% of people over age 55 will be participating in the labor market in 2022, up from 61.9% in 2002.

2. Unemployment is down.

Joblessness for older workers is lower than the overall national unemployment rate, and the trendline is improving. In August, 4.6% of workers over age 55 were jobless, compared with 6.1% of the total workforce. A year ago, the 55-plus unemployment rate was 5.1%, according to the BLS.

Fewer 55-plus workers are citing job loss these days as the key reason that they are not working–19% in July, compared with 24% at the end of 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And a Gallup survey released last month found just 13% of workers over age 50 are worried about layoffs, compared with 29% of people under age 35, and 15% of 35- to 54-year-olds.

“If you have a job, chances are pretty good you will be able to hang on to it,” says Sara Rix, senior strategic policy advisor for the AARP Public Policy Institute. “Many companies went through disruption during the recession–changing hands and letting go of people. But the labor force data tells us that the older population has been faring pretty well.”

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  1. Jerry Hutchinson says:

    Very Interesting. Thanks for the post.

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