The American Workforce: Boomer Blockade

D3010 Baby Boomer Retirement Blocks

Sorry, sonny. Boomers are not so anxious to give up their jobs. The jobless rate for 55+ Americans is “only” 6.9%, lower than the national average, and far lower than the 14.6% rate for the 20-24 age group. It appears that Boomers want to keep their jobs, either out of necessity, or rather because they just want to. 40 percent of all workers are now 55+ compared to only 30 percent almost 20 years ago. That’s a big jump. Obviously some of this represents the aging of America and the large numbers of baby boomers (76 Million born between 1946-1964, now roughly 47-65 years old).

Boomers are not willingly leaving the workforce, and furthermore they plan to stick around for a while as well. Current life expectancy for a 65-year-old man is 82 and for 65-year-old woman is 85. Given long life expectancy, many Boomers have realized that their retirement pot of gold needs to last them far longer than it did for their parents. Combine that with the fact that given the market volatility turned their 401k  into a 201k, and that interest rates on “safe” investments are .00000001%, makes them “want” to work far longer. They have awoken to the fact that twenty or thirty year retirements, absent additional earnings, are not economically feasible.

The reality is that many workers who are 55+ and still working or seeking work. Currently more than 2 million of those seeking work nationwide are older than 55, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and of those, 84 percent want full-time work. There are some diminished expectations for older workers as those laid off after age 55 are more likely to work at lower income levels in the next job.

Among the 65+ group, about 30 percent of those 65 to 69 are in the labor force in the U.S. They may need work for financial reasons, or want a job because it gives their lives meaning.

Boomers have characteristics that continue to make them desirable in the workforce:

Hard working: Many Baby Boomers are hardworking and motivated by position, perks and prestige. Many Boomers define themselves by their professional accomplishments.

Confident: Boomers tend to be confident, independent and self-reliant. They grew up in an era of reform and believed they could change the world. They questioned established authority systems and challenged the status quo.

Competitive: Since many Boomers equate work and position with self-worth, they are competitive in the workplace.

The current employment outlook is weak and may continue to be so for the coming years. With Boomers remaining in the workplace there may be a greater tension between young and old in the workplace on available opportunities. At the same time Boomers need to be wary to deliver value to their employers and be sure their technical skills are current. Past accomplishments won’t hold their jobs in an era of cost reduction and high unemployment. Retirement sure isn’t what it used to be. But maybe it never was great anyhow.

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