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Recessions and Older Workers

  • Alicia H. Munnell
  • Dan Muldoon
  • Steven A. Sass

With the economy sliding ever deeper into recession, questions arise about how older workers are faring and how their fate relative to younger workers compares to the past. The answer to these questions turns out to be a little complicated. Two forces are at work. On the one hand, labor force participation among older workers has been rising since the early 1990s, a reversal of the long-standing trend toward ever-earlier retirement. Participation rates among older workers have even continued to rise during both of the recessions in this decade – a dramatic change from previous experience. On the other hand, the edge that older workers used to have relative to younger workers when it comes to layoffs seems to have disappeared, so the rise in the unemployment rate for older workers in recessions now looks similar to that for younger workers. Of the two forces, the trend growth in labor force participation appears to dominate, which has helped keep the employment rate of older workers from falling during the current recession. This pattern contrasts sharply with the far more typical decline in employment rates for workers under age 55. This brief is organized as follows. The first section discusses the upward trend in the labor force participation of older men. The second section explores why older men may have lost some of their edge with regard to job security. The third section looks at how these two developments – the secular upward trend in labor force participation and the heightened vulnerability to layoffs relative to younger workers – have affected the employment rates of older men in this recession compared to earlier ones. The fourth section concludes.

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Paper provided by Center for Retirement Research in its series Issues in Brief with number ib2009-9-2.

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Length: 11 pages
Date of creation: Jan 2009
Date of revision: Jan 2009
Handle: RePEc:crr:issbrf:ib2009-9-2
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