Pensioners hold hands and use a walking stick as they walk across a road. (Photographer: Michele Limina/Bloomberg)

How Older Americans Are Raising and Lowering Labor Participation

(Bloomberg) -- Absent an aging population, America’s rate of workforce participation would have started to rebound in recent years to its pre-recession level, according to a Barclays Plc report that highlights how the elderly are at once raising and lowering the total share of Americans at work or looking for a job.

Between October 2013 -- when the overall rate of participation began to stabilize after digging out from the recession-induced slump -- and June 2018, the proportion of Americans age 65 and older who were either working or looking for work rose from 18.4 percent to 19.5 percent, unadjusted data from the Labor Department show. That’s up from a low of 10.4 percent in the mid-1980s, continuing a decades-long trend of Americans delaying retirement either out of choice or necessity.

How Older Americans Are Raising and Lowering Labor Participation

But older Americans, on average, are still much less likely to work than their younger counterparts. More than 82 percent of those age 35 to 44, by comparison, were either employed or looking for a job in June. As the country ages -- Americans 65 and over accounted for 19.9 percent of the working-age population in June, up from 17.8 percent in late 2013, the Barclays research report notes -- the competing pressures have helped push the overall rate sideways.

“Population aging continues to weigh down participation, and will continue to do so for some time,” said Jonathan Millar, a senior economist at Barclays and author of the report, which came out Monday. “The overall participation rate has flattened since 2013 because the drag from aging has been offset by increasing rates within age groups.”

Without such demographic shifts, the overall rate would have steadily risen in recent years, the Barclays report found after holding group population shares fixed at their October 2013 values.

Americans 65 and older will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history by 2035, according to Census Bureau projections released earlier this year.

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