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The United States is facing extreme challenges with the recent forecasts of longevity and the aging workforce. By the year 2020, 29,300,000 members of the U.S. workforce are projected to be 55-65 years of age.[1] Analysts believe that this due to three factors: the baby boomer generation reaching 55, tough economic times and the decrease in savings and retirement benefits. Many of these mature workers will have no choice but to continue to work. While statistics indicate a rapid increase during the past decade in workers over age 65, the full weight of this large generation and its impact on the workforce will not be felt until 2020.

Life Expectancy in the United States

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2020, the life expectancy will grow to 77.1 years for men and 81.9 years for women.[2] This rise in life expectancy has created a variety of challenges, including financial, for those reaching retirement age. During the past 20 years, retirement and savings accounts have dwindled, and as the baby boomer generation reaches retirement age, they may be forced to continue in the workforce for financial reasons. Where it was once believed that retirement funds should allow for 10 to 15 years of expenses after retirement, many experts are now suggesting 15-20 years or more.

Workforce Projections

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that job growth through 2016 is projected to increase by 8.5%. The rates of employment for 16- to 24-year-olds is expected to decline, while the growth rate for individuals between 25-54 years of age is expected to rise slightly. However, these numbers are in direct contrast to the rate for individuals 55-64, which is expected to climb by 36.5% during the same period. The most dramatic increase is those in the 65-74 and 75+ years groups; their rate is expected to rise more than 80%.[3] During the past three decades we have witnessed more and more mature workers remaining in or rejoining the workforce. The aging population before the late 1990s was primarily focused on part-time positions. However, since then there has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of those who are focusing on full-time work status.

Education and the Aging Workforce

Occupations which require a minimum of a master’s degree are projected to grow by 21.7% by 2020.[4]  This projection can present a challenge to those who are currently in the workforce who do not have a master’s degree in the field they are employed in. During the past decade, more and more accredited colleges and universities across the country have developed specialized degree and certificate programs for working adults. Often these can be completed online for the flexibility of their students. A variety of accredited programs is available, including bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, as well as professional certificates.

Why 75 May Be the New 65

As our longevity rates in the U.S. continue to rise, there will be more individuals seeking or continuing employment over age 65. Primarily this increase is due to financial considerations as the cost of living including health care, housing and food continues to escalate while retirement and savings funds have dwindled. However, there are many individuals who seek full-time employment after the standard retirement age of 65 because they truly enjoy working and want to stay more intellectually active. As a nation, the longer we live, the longer we will want to stay employed for financial, intellectual and social reasons. Work programs for mature workers that focus on benefits, flex-time, job sharing and telecommuting can go a long way in keeping our aging population actively working and bringing in the money they need for their golden years.

For more information please visit USC’s Master of Art’s in Gerontology program.

[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Employment Outlook: 2010-2020. Toossi, Mitra.  “Labor Force Projections to 2020: A More Slowing Growing Workforce.”  Updated: February 21, 2012.

[2] U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States:  2012. “Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces.” Table 104.

[3] Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Employment Projections Program. Table 3.4 Civilian labor Force by Age, Sex, Race and Ethnicity, 1990, 2000, 2010 and projected 2020.  Last Modified Date: February 01, 2012.

[4] Bureau of Labor Statistics.  “Employment Projections: Education and Training Assignments.”  December 6, 2011.


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