Americans will make up virtually all of the growth in the U.S. work force in the coming years as a nearly unprecedented number hold onto jobs and younger people decide to stay in school.
The study by the Pew Research Center, an independent research group, highlights a rapidly graying labor market due to longer life spans, an aging baby boomer population and a souring economy that has made it harder to retire.
Pew’s survey and analysis of government data found the share of Americans ages 55 and older who have or were seeking a job rose to 40 percent this year, the highest level since 1961. In contrast, people 16 to 24 who were active in the labor market decreased to 57 percent, down from 66 percent in 2000.
Asked to identify why they’re working, 54 percent of older workers responded that it was mostly because they wanted to, citing a desire while they were still feeling healthy to be productive, interact with other people or to “give myself something to do.” A sizable number of them — nearly 4 in 10 — also acknowledged staying put at work partly because of the recession.
Among young people 16 to 24, nearly half the respondents said they weren’t working because they wanted to focus on school or job training, reflecting a growing view among Americans that a college education is needed to get ahead in life. About 4 in 10 said they looked for work but couldn’t find a job.
In all, the number of older workers is projected to increase by 11.9 million in the next few years. They will make up nearly 1 in 4 workers by 2016.
“When it comes to work, this recession is having a differential impact by age. It’s keeping older adults in the work force longer, and younger adults out of the work force longer,” said Paul Taylor, director of the Pew Social and Demographic Trends Project. “Both of these trends pre-dated the current downturn, both have been intensified by it, and both are poised to outlast it.”
Pew based its findings on data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It also interviewed 1,815 people ages 16 and older by cell phone or landline from July 20 to Aug. 2 about their attitudes toward work. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.
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