What Retirement? Employment, Labor Force Participation Grows the Most Amongst Older Population

The generation of boomers set to retire en masse may not be retiring as quickly as some might think.

Rates of employment and labor force participation—those either employed or looking for work—of those over 65 has steadily grown over the last two decades, more so than younger demographics whose employment rates have, at times, shrunk.

Since 2003 to 2020, before the pandemic started, total employment of those over 65 has more than doubled.

For those 45 to 65, it grew only 22 percent. For those 20-45, it was 5.6 percent based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Census numbers show a similar trend.

Those between 65 and 75 and those over 75 continually represented the age groups with the largest biannual growth in employment over the last two decades.

The labor force participation rate for those over 16 has steadily declined since 2000, but increased for those 65 and over. Both age groups have seen a large drop in the participation rate during the pandemic that has started to recover in the last two quarters.

Those over 65 represent a small percent of the overall workforce—about 6.8 percent in 2021—yet their continually growing numbers shows that older populations are holding on to their jobs or re-entering the workforce more so than might be expected.

For example, a 2021 post from the Census attributed the declining labor force participation rate to elderly retirees, which is something the Bureau of Labor Statics also believes. But the growing participation rate among older populations contradicts that. There may be substantial numbers of workers below 65 retiring that are affecting the middle-age participation rate, but that population would be at the tail end of the baby boom generation, e.g. those born between 1946 to 1964.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics posited in 2018 that the overall decline in labor participation since 2000 was partially due to prime age workers, men 25 to 54 years old, and some of that is due to the growing gap between high and low skilled workers.