The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC)—led by Chairman Don Beyer (VA-08)—released a new report highlighting the growing economic contributions of older workers and the economy-wide harms cause by barriers they face in the labor market.
Older Americans contribute an estimated 40% of the national economic output despite making up just 35% the population, and the share of older workers has almost doubled in the past 20 years—a trend that is expected to continue over the next decade. But the pandemic disproportionately harmed older workers in the labor market, pushing many of them into unemployment or out of the labor force and contributing to higher poverty rates among seniors. For the first time in 50 years, the unemployment rate for older workers exceeded that of mid-career workers, shining a new light on the structural challenges these workers have faced—and continue to face—in the labor market and across the economy.
Among the report’s key findings:
- Age discrimination continues to create barriers to employment for older workers and is projected to cost the U.S. economy nearly $4 trillion by 2050.
- Reduced earnings and poor working conditions have harmed economic well-being among older workers. Economic returns to experience have been declining for decades, resulting in lower wages and diminished bargaining power. Work has also become more dangerous and strenuous for these workers, and older workers are now the most likely age group to be fatally injured on the job.
- Retirement insecurity erodes the ability of workers to freely decide when to retire: Nearly 50% of workers in the United States lack access to a retirement plan at work, and workers of color are less likely than their white counterparts to have access to, or participate in, retirement plans.
With the release of the report, Chairman Beyer, released the following statement:
“Older workers are essential to the strength and resilience of the U.S. economy. They support families and communities nationwide, and they bring decades of earned experience to businesses and marketplaces, large and small. But these workers have faced—and continue to face—challenges in the labor market that harm both their economic security and our collective prosperity. Decades of weakened bargaining power, diminishing economic returns from additional years of working, retirement instability and increasingly strenuous and dangerous jobs have contributed to widespread economic insecurity among older workers and have constricted broad-based economic growth.
“No worker should be forced into early retirement. And at the same time, no one should be forced to work beyond their preference into their golden years because of insufficient retirement savings.
“Strengthening the bargaining power of older workers in the labor market and improving their retirement readiness will expand the economic participation of all workers and strengthen the U.S. economy for generations to come. And strengthening anti-discrimination regulations, improving avenues for retirement savings and creating an Older Workers Bureau would help foster work environments that are supportive and safe for older workers to thrive.”
Dr. Teresa Ghilarducci, Irene and Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of Economics & Policy Analysis and Director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at The New School for Social Research, released the following statement:
“Older workers make up an increasingly large part of the U.S. labor force and they face many interconnected challenges, not least of which are falling job quality, decreasing bargaining power, and a retirement system that puts them at risk of poverty in old age.
“It is long past time that we form a Bureau to hear from older workers and their employers, investigate their needs, coordinate the vast resources of the U.S. government, and modernize age discrimination laws and worker training.”
The JEC held a hearing this Congress to examine how to strengthen the labor market for older workers and improve their economic and retirement security. Dr. Ghilarducci testified about retirement insecurity among older workers and policies to address it, including by creating an Older Workers’ Bureau. With Representative Marie Newman (IL-03), Chairman Beyer introduced the Older Workers Bureau Act, which would establish an Older Workers’ Bureau under the Department of Labor. The Bureau would be tasked with identifying challenges facing workers aged 55 and up and guiding future policy to support their welfare.