Older Workers:

Demographic Trends Pose Challenges for Employers and Workers

GAO-02-85: Published: Nov 16, 2001. Publicly Released: Nov 16, 2001.

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Barbara D. Bovbjerg
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The impending retirement of the "baby boom" generation is receiving considerable attention. The number of older workers will grow substantially during the next two decades, and they will become an increasingly significant share of the U.S. workforce. Although older workers are less likely than younger workers to lose a job, when they do lose a job, they are less likely than younger workers to find other employment. To retain older workers and extend their careers, some public and a few private employers are providing options, including flexible hours and financial benefits, reduced workloads through the use of part-time or part-year schedules, and job-sharing. Most employers are not yet facing labor shortages or other economic pressures that would require them to consider flexible employment arrangements because the retirement of the baby boom generation will occur gradually during the next several decades.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Labor formed an intra-agency taskforce in 2002 to address issues of an aging workforce. The taskforce had input from Labor's Business Relations group, which represents employers. The taskforce examined the demographics of older workers in the national labor force, determined the extent to which Labor's programs currently serve older workers, and made recommendations to the agency. Building on this work, in December 2005, Labor announced its intention to convene an inter-agency taskforce working collectively across federal agencies to address this issue. Specifically, the inter-agency taskforce is: (1) identifying barriers that prevent older Americans from remaining in or re-entering the workforce; (2) identifying barriers that prevent businesses from taking full advantage of this labor pool; and (3) evaluating ways to address these barriers.

    Recommendation: To address the potentially serious implications of the aging of the U.S. labor force and avoid possibly acute occupational labor shortages in the future, the relevant government agencies should work together to identify sound policies to extend the worklife of older Americans, including those legal changes that would foster creative solutions to extending workers' careers. Specifically, the Secretary of Labor should convene an interagency task force to develop legislative and regulatory proposals addressing the issues raised by the aging of the labor force. This task force would include representatives from Labor, and other agencies that have either regulatory jurisdiction or a clear policy interest, bringing together the expertise necessary to consider fully the implications of each proposal. It would solicit input from employers, unions, and other interested parties and carefully balance the concerns of older workers, employers, and the general public. The task force would also serve as a clearinghouse of information about employer or collectively bargained programs to extend the work life of older workers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor


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