Wages Stagnate as More Older Workers Join the Labor Market Tweet: Wages Stagnate as More Older Workers Join the Labor Market #JobsReport @tghilarducci http://ctt.ec/bV2w2+ 

The unemployment rate for workers aged 55 and older increased last month for the second month in a row, from 3.7% in January to 3.8% in February. The overall unemployment rate stayed constant at 4.9%.

More older workers are joining the labor market. From 2005 to 2015, the labor force participation rate for men aged 55 to 64 increased from 69.3% to 69.8%. The labor force participation rate of older women increased somewhat more - from 57.0% to 58.5%.

An increasing labor force participation rate for older workers represents an increase in the supply of labor. Whereas an increase in the demand for labor will increase job opportunities and wages, an increase in supply may be associated with reduced both wages and job quality.

The increase in the labor force participation rate from 2005 to 2015 was associated with a slowing in the rate of growth in wages of older workers, indicative of weak demand for labor. Between 1995 to 2005, real weekly earnings for men and women aged 55 to 64 increased by 7.1% and 23.7%, respectively. But between 2005 to 2015, real weekly earnings increased only 2.5% for men and 1.1% for women. This sluggish rate of growth of weekly wages wasn’t the result of a decline in the number of hours worked. The median hours worked among full-time older workers stayed constant at 40 hours per week between 1995 and 2015.

Without well-designed retirement plans, saving for retirement becomes difficult and delaying retirement becomes necessary. This could be why the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts older workers’ labor force participation rate will continue to grow in the coming decade, especially for women, who have a projected participation rate of 62.9% by 2024. If older workers are unable to retire, it has a ripple effect on the entire labor market, as increasing competition from older workers decreases the bargaining power of younger workers.

We need to ensure older workers a viable path to retirement by creating reliable retirement savings programs to supplement Social Security. For example, Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) require employee and employer contributions over a worker’s lifetime and provide guaranteed lifetime income in retirement. With the confidence provided by secure retirement income, older workers can choose to leave the labor market according their own needs, rather than hanging on to undesirable jobs out of financial desperation.

Notes: Data for median weekly earnings in current dollars for men and women age 55 to 64 as well as historical and projected labor force participation rates are taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Inflation adjustments are made using the Consumer Price Index. Median usual hours worked per week figures for workers aged 55 to 64 are calculated by the author from CPS Annual Social and Economic Supplement.


I spoke with The New York Times’s Noam Scheiber about the retirement savings initiatives in President Obama’s 2017 budget proposal. They are an admirable attempt to make up for the long decline in employer-provided retirement benefits, but don’t go far enough.

American workers are facing a retirement crisis. Experts recommend we have at least eight times our salary in savings by the time we retire. But the median account balance among families on the verge of retirement is only $12,000. Few have even close to enough savings. Many have none at all.

President Obama’s 2017 budget proposal includes a few modest attempts at improving working Americans’ ability to save for retirement. One is the “auto-IRA,” which would that require all companies who don’t offer a retirement plan enroll their workers in an IRA. Another is a proposal to make it easier for small businesses to join together and offer their employees pooled 401(k) plans at a lower cost than if they purchased them on their own.

These are notable attempts at reform, but will not solve the retirement crisis even if they make it through Congress. My proposal calls for Guaranteed Retirement Accounts, managed by the Social Security Administration, to which employers and employees would split a mandated 3% of their income and which would generate a guaranteed rate of return. This is the best way to ensure all Americans can enjoy a comfortable and secure retirement.

Long-Term Unemployment Rate Increased Faster Among Older Jobless Women than Older Jobless Men

The average unemployment rate is down. But it is up for older workers. Today’s jobs report from the Department of Labor reports an unemployment rate of 3.7% for workers over 55 in January, up from 3.2% last month, an increase of 0.5 percentage points. The overall unemployment rate went down by 0.1 percentage points from 5.0% to 4.9%.

Last month, we reported that unemployed older workers took longer to find a new job than younger workers. Drilling down to the different experiences of men and women, we find that that the long-term unemployment rate - defined as being unemployed more than 27 weeks - increased faster for older women.

TableIn 2007, before the recession, a larger share of jobless men ages 55 to 64 (26%) were long-term unemployed than jobless women of the same age (21%). By 2015, well into the recovery, 37% of unemployed men and 35% of unemployed women were long-term unemployed. The share of unemployed women who are long-term unemployed increased 14 percentage points compared to an increase of 11 percentage points for men. For comparison, in 2015, 22% of unemployed 20- to 24-year-olds were unemployed long term.

Other studies confirm that older women face a harsh labor market. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that older, college-educated women face more discrimination finding work than both younger women and older men. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis also found that after the Great Recession, older job seekers, especially women, were hit hardest and longest by both unemployment.

It’s no surprise that long-term unemployment decreases bargaining power by increasing a worker’s willingness to accept a less desirable job. Older women nearing retirement already experienced a lifetime of wage disparity that makes it harder to adequately save for retirement during their working years. For women ages 50-64 without enough retirement income, cutting Social Security by raising the retirement age makes the situation worse. They will be forced to work or look for work longer in a labor market characterized by both age and sex discrimination.

Rather, we need to provide Americans with an adequate, secure income in old age. This will level the labor market playing field, allowing all older Americans to choose between retiring with dignity and taking the time to look for decent jobs that best match their skills. Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs)are one means of achieving this goal.

NOTES: The share of unemployed workers who are long-term unemployed by sex and age is calculated by dividing the number of women and men that are unemployed for 27 weeks or longer by the number of all unemployed workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provide the data for the denominator and numerator. The denominator is the number of unemployed men and women aged 55-64 and the numerator is the numbers of long-term unemployed men and women aged 55-64.

Ghilarducci How to Retire with Enough MoneyI sat down with Richard Eisenberg of Next Avenue to discuss my new book, "How to Retire with Enough Money." We discussed systemic issues in our current retirement system and the need to create savings vehicles for workers, such as Guaranteed Retirement Accounts, to provide a safe stream of income during retirement.

The AtlanticIn “What Is This 'Wage Insurance' Obama's Talking About?,” I discuss the rich history behind one of President Obama’s proposals in his final State of the Union address. Though most Americans probably haven’t heard of wage insurance, it’s an old idea with a diverse backing.

Robert LaLonde, an economist at the University of Chicago, wrote “The Case for Wage Insurance” in 2007. He argued that America’s current system of unemployment insurance isn’t enough for workers who lose high-paying jobs and can only find low-paying jobs to replace them, and workers who are older and lose their jobs to foreign trade. His argument was based on fairness. If free trade creates winners and losers, the winners should compensate the losers.

Though President Obama’s proposal for topping up the wages of workers re-hired at lower-paying jobs is new, the concept of wage insurance has a long history in the United States’ government. Since 1935, we’ve had unemployment insurance, which replaces some of the income of laid-off workers while they look for new jobs. In 1975, President Nixon signed into law the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which supplements the wages of low-income workers who have dependents, indirectly subsidizing their employers. Some companies have Supplemental Unemployment Benefit Plans, which give extra income to workers who are laid off, but who the company hopes to re-hire soon, so they don’t feel compelled to find another job.

Wage Insurance isn’t without its critics. Some argue it creates moral hazard by making bad situations less undesirable. Others claim it encourages the proliferation of low-wage jobs. Still others argue it is effectively a subsidy for big corporations that don’t pay well. All have their points. It would be great if we could go without it, but for workers who need it, wage insurance can be indispensable.

The AtlanticIn “How the Government Underestimated the Extent of Income Inequality,” I write about the reality of Social Security’s future - not the dire warnings you hear from alarmist pundits and politicians. Without modifications, Social Security will generate enough revenue to pay for three-quarters of future benefits. The shortfall isn’t because the retirement age is too low, it’s because the wealthiest Americans by-and-large avoid Social Security taxes.

Social Security was not designed for an economy as unequal as what we have today. Most income gains of the last two generations have gone to the richest Americans. Since 1979, while the top 1% saw their incomes grow by 138%, the wages of the bottom 90% have risen only 15%.

This wouldn’t be a problem if all income was subject to Social Security taxes. But it’s not. Rather, only income up to $118,500 is subject to the tax. For most of us, this doesn’t matter, but for the wealthy it makes a big difference. The top 10,000 or so wage earners will make about $4 million on average this year. They’ll be done paying into Social Security within the first week of the year. As you go up the income distribution, this gets ridiculous, with the top wage earners done paying into Social Security (for the year!) before lunch on their first day of work.

Adjusting the system to the reality of income inequality is an easy way to make it solvent. By taxing all wages (not to mention capital gains) for Social Security, we can ensure that one of America’s most cherished public programs survives for generations to come. It’s not so unreasonable. A bipartisan coalition eliminated the cap on medicare taxes in 1994. A similar cross-aisle effort is needed again.

Older Unemployed Workers Take Longer to Find Jobs than Younger Workers

The unemployment rate is falling for workers in all age groups. For workers over 55, today’s jobs report from the Department of Labor shows an unemployment rate of 3.2% in December, a decrease of 0.5 percentage points from last month.Older Workers Take Longer to Find Jobs

While this is good news overall, if an older worker is out of a job, it will take them 10 weeks longer to find a new one than their younger counterparts. In 2007, the average time spent unemployed for workers 55+ was 23 weeks, compared to 20 weeks for younger workers, a gap of three weeks. In 2015, the gap increased three fold to ten weeks, with older workers spending 36 weeks looking for a job compared to 26 weeks for younger workers. Older unemployed workers take longer to find a job than younger workers #JobsReport @tghilarducci http://ctt.ec/edh6A+

Whatever the cause, be it age discrimination or biased job training programs, older workers are less able to recover from the shock of losing a job. As their time looking for work stretches out, many turn to early retirement as an escape, paying a high price in decreased standards of living due to inadequate savings. Cutting Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age will fuel the increase in older workers’ income vulnerability. Systemic change requires a comprehensive program in the form of Guaranteed Retirement Accounts to ensure older workers have the retirement income needed to leave the labor market when they chose.