In "Where Not to be Old and Jobless" I take a closer look August’s sunny unemployment report. While we are rightly celebrating the return of the headline unemployment rate to its pre-crisis level, the recovery is not benefiting all workers equally.

I look at the unemployment rate of workers above age 55 in tech-boom cities and find it high. The unemployment rate measures the ratio of people actively looking for work compared to the total labor force. So when we see an unemployment rate of 12.2% for workers over age 55 in Austin, Texas, we know that older workers are stressed, especially considering that the unemployment rate for workers under 55 in Austin is only 3.6%.

Is this surprising? Austin is a tech-hub, and older workers just don’t get technology, right? Probably not. While more research is needed into this subject, I’d speculate this is a result of age-discrimination and a decline in bargaining power.

Regardless of the causes, however, a few things are clear. These numbers likely understate the problem. Early retirement is often involuntary. And there are easy solutions. At minimum, we should expand Social Security and create universal pensions to help older workers prepare for retirement regardless of their level of economic stress.

In “What Effect Will Migration Have on European Wages?” I take up the economics of the migration crisis that recently moved above-the-fold. Discussions of the humanitarian crisis are invariably followed by the economic question: how will such an influx of migrants affect the wages and job prospects of European workers?

There is broad agreement among economists that immigration is good for nations. Immigrants create new demand for goods and services, and their willingness to accept low wages reduces prices. There are clear gains from immigration that are broadly distributed. But the losses are concentrated, felt mostly by certain subsets of incumbent workers who face a more competitive labor market and downward pressure on wages. Though the resulting economic growth will benefit them in the long run, the initial effect on these workers is negative.

During the Great Migration in America, roughly seven million southern-born Blacks moved to the industrialized North between 1910 and 1970. Recent research suggests that though this was great for the northern economy and the workers who moved there, it hurt incumbent northern black workers, whose wages were depressed by seven percent due to the influx of southern labor.

In the long-run, the Great Migration was an indisputable benefit for the American economy, just as the recent wave of migrants will be to Europe. But just as there were winners and losers in the North, there will be winners and losers in the European countries who open their borders to refugees.

In “Raising the Retirement Age: A Sneaky Way to Reduce Social Security Benefits” I write about how raising the eligibility age for Social Security is bad politics and bad policy. Employers wanting to hire from a larger labor pool and Republican hard-liners who support decreases in government spending have long-supported cutting Social Security. Recently, it’s been trumpeted as a prudent centrist policy. It’s not.

First the policy. Make no mistake, raising the retirement age is a cut in benefits. As it stands, the full retirement age is 70. If you start collecting benefits before 70, you receive a lower monthly payment for life. Raising the age at which Americans can start collecting benefits will likely push the benefit-maximizing age up to an unattainable level. In general, we should not expect Americans to work into their seventies.

Second the politics. Americans overwhelmingly don’t support benefit cuts. The Pew Research Center found that Americans are opposed to Social Security cuts by a margin of two-to-one. This preference persists among millennials, despite endless misinformation that Social Security will be gone by the time this cohort retires. Republicans have tried to re-brand a cut to Social Security as raising the retirement age. This is misleading at best. Raising the eligibility age for Social Security is a reduction in benefits.

We should be talking about strengthening and expanding Social Security, not weakening it.

The U.S. Department of Labor today announced a slight increase for the unemployment rate for older workers (aged 55 and over) from 3.7% to 3.8% in August. While this number represents 1.3 million older Americans who cannot find a job, this national number hides the fact that some cities are less friendly to older workers than others.

In August, the national unemployment rate for all workers was 5.1%. In contrast, the local data (ASEC September 2014) shows four metropolitan areas have an unemployment rate of over 12% for older workers, including San Jose, California (13.7%), El Paso, Texas (13.6%), New Haven, Connecticut (13.1%), and Austin, Texas (12.2%).

August Unemployment ReportThese cities' high unemployment rates for older workers are not necessarily related to the unemployment rate for those under 54. While San Jose and El Paso have high unemployment rates for younger workers (8.4% and 7.3%), Austin has one of the country's lowest unemployment rates (3.6%) for younger workers.

Industry clusters could be to blame. San Jose and Austin are home to hot new tech corridors and New Haven's economy is closely tied to Yale University and its status as a college town. Both would favor employing the young over the old.

There are also regional pockets where older workers struggle to find a job, such as Ohio's Rust Belt cities. Cleveland has an unemployment rate of 9.6% for 55 and over versus 5.2% for workers 54 and under. Cincinnati's older unemployment rate is 7.7% versus 6.6% for younger workers.

Economists have long understood the domino effects of lower wages and decreased bargaining power resulting from high unemployment. Add to this a downward trend in access to retirement savings plans at work and older workers nearing retirement age are increasingly at the mercy of a labor market that cannot meet their needs. Ironically, the less work they can find and the less wages they can save, the longer older workers will need to work.

Only a national solution will ensure that all workers, regardless of where they live, will be able to retire rather than resign themselves to unemployment or low-wage work. Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) would ensure a path to retirement by providing a safe, effective vehicle for all workers to save over their working lives

Presidential candidate Chris Christie repeated his previous call to cut benefits by increasing the retirement age in yesterday's GOP Presidential debate. A Social Security benefit cut would mean individuals nearing retirement need to save more --28% of whom do not have a retirement saving account at all. Older workers without a Bachelor's degree, about 72% of workers aged 62 and older, are especially disadvantaged in the labor market because their wages are stuck and have been stuck for 30 years. If Social Security benefits are cut, older workers would have less bargaining power in the labor market.

Older Worker Bargaining PowerThe Department of Labor announced today that the unemployment rate for older workers (aged 55 and up) was 3.7% in July, which remains the same as last month. 1.3 million older people who wanted to work couldn't find a job in July.

Aside from struggling to find a job, the search for a quality job with good pay is harder for older workers. Workers 62 and over with high school degrees earned $24.16 per hour on average in 2012, just 3.8% more than they earned in real terms in 1982.1 The growing prevalence of low-paying jobs, particularly in the retail sector which employs about 15% of older workers, is a primary reason for wage stagnation and low retirement plan coverage rates in the last 30 years. Fewer than 40% of older workers without a college degree participate in a pension or 401(k)-type plan at work.

In contrast, wages for workers with at least a Bachelors' degree (28% of workers aged 62 and older) increased by almost 33% between 1982 and 2012, to $37.55 per hour.2 And the older workers with pay increases have substantially more pension coverage – 47%.

Raising the retirement age should not be looked at as a job creation policy, but a cut in Social Security benefits creating more retirement insecurity for everyone. Instead of raising the retirement age, Presidential hopefuls should consider expanded access to pensions and savings vehicles, like Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs), to provide a secure income in retirement. A secure pension, like the GRA, gives older job seekers a cushion and added bargaining power.

1 Current Population Survey, March Supplement 2013. Years provided are end points of three-year intervals (1982 refers to data from 1981-1984, and 2012 refers to data from 2010-2013).

2 Current Population Survey, March Supplement 2013. Years provided are end points of three-year intervals (1982 refers to data from 1981-1984, and 2012 refers to data from 2010-2013).


Chris Christie and his proposal to raise the retirement age are officially part of the 2016 presidential campaign. While policies like this are debated on the campaign trail, the labor market for older workers needs to be considered.

Today's job report shows the unemployment rate for black older workers is nearly double that of Whites (3.3% for Whites and 5.8% for Blacks). This shows the perseverance of racial disparities in the labor market for older workers despite lower overall unemployment levels over the last year.

Not only is finding work more difficult for non-White older workers, so is saving for retirement if and when employed. For people of color nearing retirement who are in the bottom 50% of the income distribution – those families earning less than $60,000 a year – only 47% of Blacks have retirement coverage at work, 30% of Hispanics/Latinos and 37% for other racial and ethnic groups, including Asians.

June Unemployment ReportSCEPA has documented how this one-two punch of joblessness coupled with age decreases older workers' bargaining power, further diminishing their ability to save for retirement even if they do find work.

For workers over 55, the labor market – and therefore raising the retirement age - is not a solution. Instead, older workers need access to a strengthened Social Security program and supplemental policy innovations like Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs).

This week another GOP presidential hopeful, Jeb Bush, announced his support for raising the retirement age, a policy that would force older workers with inadequate retirement savings to depend on the labor market for needed income and savings. Yet, today's federal jobs report announced a May unemployment rate of 3.7% for older workers over 55 and nearing retirement. This is a decrease of 0.3 percentage points since last month, but it still means that 1.5 million older workers want to work but can't find a job.

This situation is particularly dire for older women. Given women's longer life expectancy, they will need to sock away retirement savings for five more years than men. According to the Census Bureau's Survey of Income Program and Participation (SIPP), over half of older women ages 50-64 have nothing saved for retirement. For women of the same ages who do have retirement savings, their median retirement account balance is $40,000.

Retirement Account Balances by GenderAs we've seen, the labor market is no panacea for the retirement crisis. Older women have an unemployment rate of 3.6% in May, which means 715,000 women over 55 cannot find a job. Meanwhile, more older women are in the labor market. Since the 1980's, older women workers have increased by 171%, from 15 million to 40.5 million. The gender wage gap is also persistent, following women from college graduation through pre-retirement years. In 2013, older women made between $0.73 and $0.80 for every dollar made by men of their own age.

Retirement Account Balances by GenderFor an older woman facing her last years to save, trying to work and save in this labor market means it will take her longer and she will get less.

Raising the retirement age is not a solution, for women or for men. Rather, we need to reform the failing pension institutions that got us here by creating Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) on top of Social Security to provide guaranteed income to seniors for life. By allowing people a viable path to saving, we can allow all workers the choice to continue working or to leave the labor market when it doesn't treat them well.