The thought of working when you’re older than 65 doesn’t appeal to lots of people and it’s not part of their retirement planning. When I post anything about it here, there are always frustrated and even angry comments from people who feel:
- They deserve a break. They’ve worked and paid into Social Security since they were in their teens and they are ready to quit.
- They are willing but unable to find a job. No doubt about it. Age discrimination is a problem.
- Their health isn’t good enough. Some people who want to work can’t.
So when I read a report from investment banker Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. that between 2003 and 2011, people older than 65 comprised 2.2 million of the 6.9 million workers who were previously unemployed but found new jobs, I was shocked. That’s an amazing one-third of the new hires. If true, it offers a different perspective on retirement.
I feared that I had misunderstood the report, so I called Mark Pawlak, who is the market strategist for KBW, as it is known in the investment world, and he confirmed that I was reading those statistics correctly. In total, he said, workers older than 65 now represent 4.6 percent of the total U.S. work force, up from 3.3 percent prior to 2003.
At the same time, the number of workers age 16 to 19 has fallen to 1.6 million, a decline that is comparable to the increase in the number of older workers. Pawlak didn’t have any solid evidence to share that explains that, but he said his data suggested that one group is substituting for the other group. In other words, instead of a part-time high school kid, it’s grandpa saying, “Welcome to Wal-Mart.”
Overall, Pawlak says he finds the data encouraging. He embarked on this study to determine whether unemployment in the U.S. is a result of a structural change in the work force, with fewer people able to find work because the opportunities aren’t there and aren’t likely to increase. Before he started the study, he said the anecdotal evidence would seem to suggest that because wherever investment bankers went they heard the same thing — there just aren’t any jobs to be had.
But the more he looked at the data, the more convinced he became that this bout of unemployment is a cyclical economic problem, not a structural one. As the economic pie expands worldwide, Americans will continue to enjoy a big piece. “The bigger the pie, the better off we are as a country,” Pawlak says.
The economy will expand and people of all ages will find work, he predicted. “I walked away from this research upbeat, and I’m not the eternal optimist.”
Let’s hope he’s right. A greatly expanded economy would solve most of Social Security and Medicare’s problems, relieve the housing logjam and push up prices and make it more likely that anybody who wants to work at any age will find a good job.