Older Workers Report

Older Workers See Job Quality Erode by More Physically and Demanding Jobs

March 6, 2015

Brief — February 2015 Unemployment Report for Workers Over 55

The February 2015 employment report issued by the U.S. Department of Labor today reports an increase in the unemployment rate for workers over the age of 55. An estimated 62,000 more older workers joined the ranks of the unemployed in the month of February, bringing the unemployment rate of older workers to 4.3% from 4.1% last month.

These changes stand in contrast to the employment situation for all workers (16 years and over). Both the unemployment rate (5.5%) and the number of unemployed persons (8.7 million) edged down in the month of February.

As a sign of more trouble for older workers, the month of February marked a decline for the share of older workers with a job; the employment-to-population ratio declined from 38.3% to 38.0%.

The prolonged sluggishness of the labor market also forced an estimated 125,000 older workers to leave the labor force in the month of February. Older workers are becoming increasingly aware that as they are asked to work further into old age, the workplace grows no friendlier to their needs.

At SCEPA, our research finds that older workers have seen their job quality erode by more physically and demanding jobs. From 1992 to 2008, the proportion of jobs that always require "good eyesight" increased by 26.0%, 31.0% and 78.6% for workers aged 50-55, 56-61 and 62-65, respectively. We find that workers ages 56-61 report a much higher rate of jobs that always require "stooping, kneeling or crouching." In fact, we estimate that the rate of 'all the time' "stooping, kneeling or crouching" has increased by a remarkable 21.9% (for workers ages 50- 55) and 35.9% (for workers ages 56-61).

These findings are troubling because, as the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion points out, maximum strength diminishes after the age of 30 and by the age 65 maximum oxygen intake is reduced by 30%. This means that older workers are often working at maximum capacity.

We also know that as the workforce ages, the incidence of disability rises. The University of Wisconsin-Madison's Trace Center study finds that the incidence of disability among working-age Americans is 9.5% for workers in the 18- to 24-year-old range, 20+% for workers in the 45- to 54-year-old range, and nearly 42% for workers in the 65+ age range. Unfortunately, McMullin and Shuey (2006) find that when an employer believes a worker's limitations are due to "natural aging," accommodation is less likely.

These findings are in line with a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study, which shows a majority of companies have not made special provisions for older workers. Older workers, for example, are often denied access to training, as employers are more likely to favor early-career and mid-career employees. Older workers also report wanting to move away from the standard nine-to-five, five-day workweek. Yet, only about 10% of workers are enrolled in formal, employer-sponsored flextime programs.

Clearly, the workplace remains far from friendly to older workers. It is no surprise that a lot of them are having a hard time findings work and find themselves forced to leave the labor force altogether.