WORKFORCE

Wage gains prove elusive as U.S. elderly drive competition

BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/DANIEL ACKER
ROUGHLY 74 PERCENT of Americans say they plan to work past age 65, according to a May study by economists Jay Bryson and Sarah Watt of Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Posted 6/27/12

WASHINGTON - Richard InLove, 60, works 20 hours a week as a receptionist and office assistant in Eugene, Ore., and wants more. After losing a full-time job in a cereal factory three years ago, he hasn’t been able to find a second position.

“I’d do one more part-time job if I could get it,” said InLove, who has been with a local museum since 2010. “I am still looking but it’s been hard.”

He plans to join the record 7.3 million workers 65 or older trying to shore up finances battered by the recession that ended three years ago and stay productive. An aging population, longer and healthier lifespans and changes to retirement-benefit plans will mean rising competition for jobs and limited wage gains even after the economy strengthens.

About 74 percent of Americans say they plan to work past age 65, according to a May study by economists Jay Bryson and Sarah Watt of Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina. Thirty-nine percent said they need to earn to make ends meet or maintain their lifestyle, and 35 percent wanted to stay employed.

“Many seniors simply aren’t in a position to retire,” said Watt, whose research was based on a Wells Fargo retirement survey done in 2011. “More people are hanging on to the job longer,” she said, as a result of the recession and some longer-term trends.

Job outlook

The job outlook may take time to improve as the world’s largest economy isn’t growing fast enough. Payrolls in May grew at the slowest pace in a year and joblessness has topped 8 percent for 40 consecutive months.

Many seniors take part-time, temporary and lower-paying positions to remain in the workforce. Since 2010, those age 55 and older are outpacing prime-age workers in holding multiple jobs, a Bloomberg review of Labor Department data shows.

There’s “more competition per opening,” said Watt, particularly in stores or fast-food restaurants where younger workers vie for positions that demand few skills and little experience, she said. Joblessness among 16 to 24-year-olds was 16.1 percent in May, about double the 8.2 percent rate for the nation.

High unemployment has brought more attention to seniors continuing to work, said Richard Johnson, director of the Program on Retirement Policy at the Urban Institute in Washington. Crowding out can occur “regardless of age,” he said, as depressed job turnover means there’s less room for others to enter, move up or switch to another position.

Working longer

Nearly 17 percent of those age 65 and older were employed in May, a 46-year-high and up from 15.5 percent at the start of the recession in December 2007, Watt said. The percentage of those between age 25 and 54 working dropped to 75.3 percent last month, compared with 79.9 percent in December 2007.

While the ranks of those at least 65 are growing, their jobless rate remains close to the post-World War II high reached in 2010, and a record 42 percent have been out of work for more than a year, she said.

“Older Americans might plan to work but may not be able to do so,” Watt said. “It is definitely tougher for seniors to become re-employed.”

InLove struggled after losing a production job at $13 an hour with health insurance. ExperienceWorks, a national, community-based employment program for seniors, helped place him at the Lane County Historical Society and Museum, where he earns $9.27 an hour. He’s on call after a three-month stint as an after-school-care assistant.

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