In March 2015 the U.S. Department of Labor reports that the unemployment rate for older workers fell from 4.3% in February to 3.9%. As a sign of labor market strength, 200,000 older people joined the ranks of the employed and job seekers, which increased labor force engagement from 39.7% to 39.9%. Employment for workers aged 55 and over increased by more than 300,000, so the employment-to-population ratio for older workers rose from 38.0% to 38.3%.

Older workers have done better than workers 16 and over. Their unemployment rate (5.5%) and the employment-to-population ratio (59.3%) remained constant in March.

The rise in employment among older workers is certainly good news. These fortunate workers are no longer queuing for job vacancies. But what types of jobs are older workers landing? Instead of extending their middle-class careers, larger shares of older workers are working in low-wage industries.

The data shows that all American workers with Bachelor's degrees have moved increasingly into service and retail jobs, however, the portion of educated older male workers moving into low-wage jobs is even higher. The proportion of men ages 55-62 working in service increased by 45.7% from 1980 to 2010. In 1980 over a fourth, 27.2%, of men with BAs worked in service jobs and, in 2010, almost 4 out of 10 (39.6%) worked in service jobs. The results are similar for educated men in the older groups: the share of educated men ages 63-69 in service soared by 61.2%, and the oldest of old (ages 70+) increased their share in service by 44.7% since the early '80s.

The proportion of educated men moving into retail is smaller, but the trend is the same. Increasingly older educated men are in low-wage jobs not requiring their education or experience.

Women have long made up the largest fraction of workers in low wage sectors like services and retail. The share of older, college-educated women ages 63-69 working in retail increased by a whopping 83.1% from 1980 to 2010. Even the share of the oldest of old women workers (age 70+) in retail rose by 25.7% since the early 1980s.

The service and retail sectors are among the lowest paid industries in the economy. The increasing fraction of older men and women with Bachelor's degrees working in these industries suggests the jobs that are growing are low quality and low paying.

That is exactly what Rick McGahey, SCEPA Faculty Fellow, finds. Low-wage industries such as food services, retail, and administrative services accounted for almost 40% of net private sector job growth over the last four years. McGahey sees no end to this trend, as these low-wage industries have made up 35% of total job growth each month into 2015.

SCEPA Director and retirement expert Teresa Ghilarducci describes the increasing share of older workers in low-wage industries as a disturbing new work reality. Declining traditional pensions and too-small 401(k) account balances, are leaving older workers without the bargaining power to retire or to quit a low-wage job with poor working conditions.

Please see Tables 1 and 2 for detailed numbers about educated workers moving into low wage jobs as they age.

March Unemployment Report Chart 1

March Unemployment Report Chart 2

he says. “They support their families and take on entrepreneurship roles from street vendors to corporate managers.”

Attendees will be able to sample food from Haiti, Bangladesh, Jordan, and more before listening to a lively panel discussion. The panelists include chef and owner of Fleurimond Catering, Nadage Fleurimond; cookbook author, Grace Young; The League of Kitchens’ Jessica Chakraborty; and restaurateur, Barbara Sibley. Von Diaz, journalist and food writer, will moderate the discussion. Both Fleurimond and Diaz are former Feet in 2 Worlds participants. “We like to keep it in the family,” Rudolph jested.

Admission to “Coming to the Table” is free, but is sold out. The event will be live-streamed for those unable to attend. For more information and a taste of previous food-related content, check out the Feet in 2 Worlds blog and follow #foodin2worlds on Twitter.