Americans Staying in the Workforce Longer

The labor-force participation rate is increasing for Americans ages 55 and older as they are faced with higher health costs and economic losses, according to a study published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).
The study, published in the February 2010 EBRI Notes, based on U.S. Census Bureau data, finds that the percentage of civilian non-institutionalized Americans ages 55 or older in the labor force declined from 34.6% 1975 to 29.4% in 1993, but has steadily increased, reaching 39.4% in 2008—the highest level over the 1975–2008 period.

According to an EBRI release, for those ages 55–64, the increase is being driven almost exclusively by the increase of women in the work force, and the male participation rate is flat to declining. However, among those ages 65 and older, labor-force participation is increasing for both male and females.

The study also found individuals with higher levels of education are significantly more likely to be in the labor force than those with the lower levels of education.

EBRI says the incentives for workers to stay in the workforce longer include the ability (and in some cases the need) to continue to accumulate assets in defined contribution plans and to have access to employment-based health insurance coverage. The study suggests workers increasingly are facing more responsibility for paying for their retirement expenses, as private-sector workers who have access to an employment-based retirement plan most commonly have a defined contribution plan (typically a 401(k) plan, financed at least partially with their own contributions), and retiree health insurance is becoming increasingly scarce.

Even for those who do have retiree health insurance, caps on what the employer will pay annually for the coverage are being reached and/or surpassed, EBRI said.

However, EBRI found there also is an increased desire among Americans to work longer, particularly among those with more education, in more “meaningful” jobs.

The February 2010 EBRI Notes can be found at