NC in Focus: Older Workers

“The U.S. workforce has never been older. The share of workers ages 55 and over hit 22.2 percent in July, according to data released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the highest since record-keeping began in 1948.” – Peter Coy, “American Workers Are Older Than Ever” at Bloomberg Businessweek

Although I don’t have data for North Carolina going back to 1948, the Current Population Survey shows similar trends are occurring in North Carolina. In 2013, 22% of the state’s workers were 55 or older, up from 17% in 1973.

Workers 55 and Older US v NC

Two factors are driving these trends at a national level. First, individuals 55 or older are a much larger portion of the U.S. population than they were in the past. The large cohort of Baby Boomers began turning 55 around 2002. Since then, the proportion of the population 55 and over has risen steadily; 26% of the U.S. population was 55 or older in 2013. In North Carolina, this proportion was even higher—28% in 2013 compared to 19% in 1973—in part reflecting the state’s emergence as a retirement destination.

Population 55 and Older US v NC

Second, labor force participation rates among individuals 55-69 have increased nationwide. In 1973, half of adults between the ages of 55 and 69 were in the labor force. Labor force participation among older adults hit a low of 43% in the late 1980s. By 2013, however, 56% of adults ages 55-69 were still in the labor force, reflecting both the impacts of longer life expectancy and better health, as well as the financial impacts of the recession that may necessitate working longer. Changes in labor force participation rates in North Carolina were less pronounced, however (50% in 2013 compared to 54% in 1973 and a low of 42% in 1986), and similarly may reflect the growing presence of retirees in the state.

About Rebecca Tippett

Rebecca Tippett is Director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill's Carolina Population Center.
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