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EBRI Report: 4 in 10 Boomers Ages 55 and Older are Working

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The labor-force participation rate for boomers age 55 and older showed no change between 2010 and year-end 2011, according to a new report.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute, Washington, D.C. published this funding in a summary of results from a survey that examines the rates at which older workers participated in the workforce before, during, and after 2007-2009 economic recession. The report is based on the latest U.S. Census Bureau data and is published in the February 2012 EBRI Notes, “Labor-force Participation Rates of the Population Age 55 and Older, 2011: After the Economic Downturn,” posted at the EBRI web site.

The EBRI report finds that the percentage of civilian, non-institutionalized Americans near or at retirement age (age 55 or older) was 40.25% in 2011, the same rate that EBRI recorded in 2010. The participation rate has been rising steadily since 1993, when it stood at 29.4%.

The EBRI analysis finds that for those ages 55–64, this trend is almost exclusively due to the increase of women in the work force; the male workforce participation rate is flat to declining. 

For men age 55 and older, the labor force participation rate grew from 1975 to 2010, before flattening out or slightly decreasing to 46.3% in 2011. Among women age 55 and older, the labor force participation rate grew to 35.1% in 2010 (its highest level) from 22.8% in 1993, where it remained in 2011. In contrast to males, female labor-force participation rates for those ages 55–59 and 60–64 increased sharply from 1975–2011. 

The EBRI report notes that some older workers continue in the labor force because they want to remain actively employed, but many others work because they need to.  

“This upward trend is not surprising and is likely to continue,” says EBRI’s Craig Copeland, author of the report. “Many workers continue to need access to employment-based health insurance, as well as more earning years to save for retirement.”

For all racial/ethnic groups examined, labor-force participation among older workers was higher in 2011 than it was in the middle 1990s, with whites having the highest rate and Hispanics Americans the lowest, the report finds. Older Americans with a college education were more likely to be working than those without.