Older workers

The Older Workers and Retirement Chartbook

Press release

The Older Workers and Retirement Chartbook shows the risks to retirement security and disparities in retirement preparedness, and explores the links between labor market challenges facing older workers and retirement insecurity.

The Older Workers and Retirement Chartbook

A joint project of EPI and the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis

Several themes emerge from our research:

The U.S. population is aging; at the same time, the labor force participation rate is increasing among older Americans. As a result of well-documented flaws in the U.S. retirement system, many older workers hope to continue working as long as possible to make ends meet. However, many face barriers to working longer and lack access to decent jobs with decent pay. Older workers who cannot afford to retire often face diminishing job quality and earnings as a result of loss of bargaining power.

The connection between work and retirement insecurity is a two-way street. Bad jobs lead to bad retirements, but retirement insecurity also forces older workers to accept bad jobs. Workers with the freedom to walk away from a bad job can negotiate better pay and working conditions with their existing or new employers, individually or as part of a union. In this way they can strengthen the bargaining power of other workers as well.

Some workers are able to work longer to close the retirement income gap, but expecting workers to work longer is neither a fair nor a realistic solution to a broken retirement system. Some workers may benefit from delaying retirement to increase their savings and accrued benefits while shortening their retirement. But expecting workers to work into old age is neither a feasible nor an equitable solution to the retirement crisis. For one thing, the increase in life expectancy has been concentrated among higher earners with jobs that are less physically demanding. For another, Americans already work more, and longer, than workers in most peer countries.

Chapter 1

Older workers

Older workers face challenges linked to age discrimination, poor health, and other barriers to employment. Retirement insecurity also forces workers to stay in bad jobs. Targeted policies can help, but so can policies that improve working conditions for all workers.

Chapter 2

Retirement

Relying on employers to offer retirement benefits has never served U.S. workers well, leaving roughly half of private-sector workers without coverage. Expanding Social Security is the simplest and most effective solution to the retirement crisis.

Chapter 3

Risk

Americans face increasing economic risks as they age, including risks associated with poor health, job loss, and financial market downturns. Social insurance programs help shield older workers and retirees from these risks but need to be expanded.


Acknowledgments

Teresa Ghilarducci, director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA), envisioned and oversaw the development of the Older Workers and Retirement Chartbook. We are grateful for her insight and guidance.

We are also grateful for support from SCEPA’s Eva Conway, whose thoughtful management kept the project on track across organizations, and EPI’s editorial and production team, Lora Engdahl, Krista Faries, John Carlo Mandapat, Daniel Perez, and Eric Shansby. Authors’ analyses in some of the charts have benefited from previous work by SCEPA research associates Owen Davis and Jessica Forden.

We would like to thank RRF Foundation for Aging for its generous support of this project. We especially thank Naomi Stanhaus and Anne Posner for their constructive feedback throughout this project.

Many of our colleagues across organizations provided letters of support for this project at the grant proposal stage. Many also responded to a questionnaire and participated in a roundtable discussion, sharing their thoughts about the landscape of working at older ages and retirement security. We are indebted to these colleagues: Nancy J. Altman, Ismael Cid-Martinez, Peter A. Creticos, Dan Doonan, Mindy Feldbaum, Karen Friedman, Lindsay Goldman, Tracey Gronniger, Jeffrey Hayes, Maria Heidkamp, David C. John, Peter Kaldes, Aaron Keating, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Kristen Kiefer, Andrea Kuwik, Lori Lucas, Mona Masri, Amy Matsui, Edward A. Miller, Earl Millett, David S. Mitchell, Alicia H. Munnell, Jan Mutchler, Shaun O’Brien, Jim Palmieri, Marci Phillips, Maura Porcelli, Kathleen Romig, Jennifer Schramm, Amy Shannon, Shengwei Sun, Alayne Unterberger, Michele Varnhagen, Elaine Weiss, and Christian E. Weller.

Last but not least, we are grateful for the early support of the late Karen Ferguson, founder of the Pension Rights Center, who devoted her career to ensuring workers received the pension benefits they were entitled to and expanding access to secure benefits for all workers.