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Working longer and liking it

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Monday, August 8, 2011
Posted: 1 pm ET

Are you working instead of contemplating retirement while your newly graduated offspring can't find a job?

It's a fact of economic life in this downturn that baby boomers are working longer -- hanging onto the jobs they have, says The Brookings Institution's Senior Fellow in Economic Studies Gary Burtless, one of the nation's foremost experts on employment and unemployment. "Every sign that we have indicates that a sizable fraction of boomers want to retire later than their parent's generation did."

Burtless believes the trend started before 2009, when the bottom fell out of the job market, and has strengthened even as it has been increasingly difficult for boomers to find employment.

"If the economy were functioning  smoothly,  the employment rates of the oldest boomers would be higher than they are now. If you look at labor force participant rates -- those who are working and those who are looking for a job -- I think this trend is very powerful and it's not losing steam," Burtless says.

Burtless doesn't discount the difficulty people older than 50 have finding jobs -- "It's a tough row to hoe," he acknowledges.

But he doesn't think they are having more trouble than recent graduates because there are more recent graduates looking for work than there are people in their 50s and older who are looking. Because people who are employed are holding tight to the jobs they have, they aren't moving up and out to make room for newcomers.

"It's hard to compare hardships, but I would say the decline in employment has been much harder on 20-somethings than it has been on 50-somethings. I think that 20-somethings and early 30-somethings are really suffering because their lives are on hold," Burtless says.

His analysis is probably true, but it may not feel that way if your retirement planning is stuck in neutral because you can't find work.

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