Senior Workers Outnumber Teenage Workers For The First Time

Bloomberg highlighted an interesting chart stating that for the first time ever, working seniors outnumber teens in the labor force.  Currently 6.6 million people over the age of 65 are working or are looking for work compared to 5.9 million 16 to 19-year-olds.  Back in 1948, the numbers were only 2.9 million people over age 65 and 4.4 million teens, respectively.

This chart has enormous implications for the American workforce as people live longer and longer.  Let’s go into the reasons why there’s been a decline in teenage workers and such a rapid increase in older workers shall we?

TREND ANALYSIS

1) Longer Lifespan. A longer life ironically means more years you need to take care of yourself financially.  Can you imagine if you lived until age 1,000 how many years you’d have to work to save money?  Maybe a couple hundred years!

2) Information Dissemination. The Internet has allowed people to find more jobs more efficiently.  There’s always been a problem with matching skill sets with company needs.  As a result, seniors have found jobs where they would otherwise have never had the opportunity.

3) Boredom. Let’s face it, playing golf all day and lounging by the beach gets boring after a certain amount of time.  Retirement really isn’t what it’s cut out to be, otherwise you’d see a DECLINE in the number of 65 and older workers instead of a rapid increase.

4) Quality Of Worker. If you are an employer, wouldn’t you rather hire a clear-headed person with 40 years of experience than someone with practically none?  The choice is easy and teenagers are unfortunately being crowded out.

5) Too Many Distractions. It must be exciting growing up as a teenager nowadays.  The amount of gadgetry and things to distract are astounding!  There seems to be the idea that anybody can get rich quick online, so nobody wants to make just $8 an hour bagging groceries anymore.  It is interesting to see the media perpetuate the stereotype that Gen Y is a bunch of lazy, I want it now folks.  Maybe the data serves as evidence.

KEY QUESTION: Is it fair that younger workers are being crowded out by older workers?

It’s clear there is a US unemployment issue and much of the world frankly.  As more seniors re-enter or stay longer in the work force, the question becomes is this right for those who are just starting off?  On the one hand, teenagers will argue that senior people have had their chance in the work force already.  40 years is a long enough time to be working, and if they are taking entry level jobs traditionally allocated to teenagers, that’s just wrong.

On the other hand, senior folks can argue that if their kids actually took care of them in their old age, they wouldn’t have to work!  But then, the counter argument would be that they should have found ways to take care of themselves after 40 years of work.  So it seems as if everything is rational from a financial point of view.  Both sides are at “fault.”

Hence, the real reason for the rapid increase in older workers and a commensurate decline in younger workers is simply desire.  Teenagers have less desire to work because the world owes them something, and older workers have a greater desire to work because they are bored out of their minds!  Hence, the crossover is actually a market driven phenomena that is completely rational.

Readers, what are your thoughts about the crossover?

Why do you think there’s been a surge in older workers and a decline in younger workers over the past 20 years?

Should older workers stop working and give younger workers a chance since they had theirs already?

Regards,

Sam @ Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”

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Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    I think a lot of teenagers get a bad reputation as not being dependable, spending more time texting than doing actual work, and not being loyal to the place where they work. For many, this may not be true, but it’s probably a generational thing that, at least for part time work, seniors are more dependable than teenagers.

    I don’t know if it’s a question of fair or not. It is what it is. If teens were more dependable and could be counted on to work hard, they’d get more jobs.

  2. Leigh says

    While it is statistically interesting to compare oldsters and teens, I think a better analysis would be to look at the impact on twenty and thirty somethings. I know a number of Boomers who are staying in jobs well past retirement age for various reasons and this does impact younger, productive workers who need those promotions and pay raises to address mortgages, elder care and child-rearing expenses.

    As a Gen-Xer, I have been weighted by the Boomers my whole career, unable to move up the ladder in appropriate steps because there are always too many above me. They burden my generation with more work without appropriate compensation.

    Gen-Y will have it even harder as Boomers are unwilling or unable financially to move into retirement. Gen-Y also has a bad reputation as being unable to contribute much in a work setting. Their supposedly superior computer skills have yet to make an impression on me. I have found them impatient with their entry level jobs, unwilling to “pay their dues” and instead don’t understand why they aren’t in top level decision making situations. As a whole, they are used to collaboration and having input, when their lack of experience doesn’t justify such involvement.

    I know that makes me sounds old. Get off my lawn, you kids! But it’s what I’ve seen first hand.

    • says

      Hmmm, you make a good point regarding Gen Yers going to be weighed down even MORE by Gen-Xers because of Gen-Xers being weighed down by their parents generation.

      I guess we’re just going to have to try that much harder!

      I think the teenage demographic is less interesting since they don’t HAVE to work. But, I think it’s representative of the 20s year old workers as well, how they are getting crowded out.

  3. says

    in some ways its not fair but who ever said life is supposed to be fair? People are living longer today and working longer because they have too, probably because of debt, and because of being fired from former companies, losing pensions, etc… so they have to work. Also, kids are also competing for jobs with people that may not even live in the US but live across the globe.

    I advise people to not look to government to solve the problem. In a big way they are the problem.

    • says

      I agree, whoever is counting on the government to support their retirement is smoking dope.

      It’s a competitive world indeed, and if you ain’t trying to your supreme, you are toast!

  4. says

    I know a few people who are approaching retirement or have already past the traditional retirement age. In their case, they aren’t financially ready to retire. It might have been that they didn’t begin planning early enough or that they lost a large portion of their retirement in stocks. For instant, in the teaching profession there is a huge group of people (the baby boomers) who should be retiring within the next few years. Teaching is a rare job in that it is primarily based on seniority. It is very hard to get rid of a teacher once they have reached tenure, which may be only 2-4 years after first being hired. There are hundreds of new graduates who just can’t get a teaching job in CA because there aren’t any job openings. I’d like to see some more teachers retire, but I really can’t blame them for wanting to stick it out a couple of more years.

    As for is it fair or not with teens, I think that teens who want to work are working. Those who are not working, aren’t being persistent enough because they probably don’t really want to work anyway. Technology is consuming their every minute!

    • says

      Hmmm…. sounds like a bad situation for teachers if those who should be retiring aren’t retiring given teaching is so much about tenure.

      So you’re saying it’s easier for teenagers to find low paying jobs than older workers? I think that’s quite a debatable thought given so many have commented that older workers are more reliable.

  5. says

    @ Money Beagle

    I am seeing this with my 17 year old. She is supposedly looking for a job, but unfortunately, one hasn’t found her yet. I remember being 17 in the early 80s, during the Carter recession and it took me 6 months to land a job as a box boy. I showed up twice a week on Mondays and Fridays and I got the only opening. Most kids now days don’t have the persitence nor the attention span to compete in these tough economic times, especially against people who have raised families and worked for 40 years. Hopefully, they will start to figure that out and step up their game.

    @Leigh

    I hope to be out of your way, long before retirement age. The Corporate Ladder is all yours.

    • says

      Bret, the thing is, it’s not that important/necessary for a 17 year old to find a job, and not be able to find a job don’t you think? She has her whole life ahead of her, first of which is college. For the older worker, it could be problematic if the need the money.

      Your daughter has the Bank of Dad!

      • says

        Sam,

        The Bank of Dad is solvent and I could float my daughter all of the way through college. But, she feels entitled to many things I had to earn. I believe it’s important for her to work and contribute. It’s a fine line between letting kids enjoy their childhood and teaching them to be self-sufficient. I’m not raising future dependents.

        In fact, I think that’s becoming a problem for many kids. They come out of college in their mid-20s, never having worked a day in their life. And, they enter a highly competitive work environment and can’t get a job. The kids who worked their way through college have an advantage. And, they don’t sit at home complaining about their student loans.

        As for my kid taking a job away from a senior, that’s not her problem. She has the same right to a job as anyone and if she is hired over them, good for her. I work in the computer industry and I know all about age discrimination. It’s very real. Everyone who expects a paycheck has to hustle to compete.

        • says

          Bret, I believe in work too. But what if she works during college and hurts her grades and thereby lessens her chance of getting a good job. Wouldn’t that be self defeating?

          Perhaps just get her to work during the summer and not during school as a compromise?

  6. says

    Nice find. Looks like the seniors curve really took off right around 2000. I wonder if the stock market crash then caused a lot of people to delay their retirement. Somewhere else, I saw a report that the S&P today has meandered back to its 1998 value; that probably isn’t encouraging older folks to retire or stay retired either.

    It would be super interesting to find out: how many of the seniors are people who retired originally but have since come out of retirement.

    • says

      That would be an interesting question. If you find the answer, let me know!

      I really think more seniors r going back to work b/c the internet is making finding interesting work easier for people looking for work to counteract boredom.

      Before the crash, people made lots and lots of money. Not everybody didn’t sell.

  7. says

    I wonder how much this is related to the population mix (ie boomers). That peak of teenage workers in the 70’s are now at retirement age. I got my first job when I was 14 but I don’t think younger people are allowed to work til they’re at least 16 now. By 16, those kids in the 70’s might already have had 2 years of work experience under their belt.

    It has been hard to try to find a reliable babysitter. I remember being very hungry for babysitting jobs, but kids these days are very “booked” with other plans. I wonder though if it’s just the neighborhood I live in. My parents didn’t give me an allowance, so I may have just been more financially desperate vs my middle class neighbor’s kids.

  8. says

    Speaking of the boomer generation, with what’s happened in the world today retirement may not be an option for many. But what upsets me is when I see people that are drawing retirement, yet still doing jobs that a younger person could hold. My belief is, if you need the money work, if not leave the jobs for the younger generation.

    • says

      Unfortunately, that’s impossible to police. Again, the answer is counteracting BOREDOM I think. If you’re pulling in a nice $90,000 pension, and doing a job a 16-25 year old would be willing to do, that sucks for the younger folks, but it’s helping keep old folks busy so the younger folks don’t have to entertain them.

  9. says

    I bet many parents are to blame too. I would rather my kids focus on their grades than get a minimum wage job (ironically I started my first minimum wage job at age 16), not to mention how popular high school sports are these days…

    For the elderly, so many of them had such a bad haircut in the stock market, that now many are letting their hair grow out a bit before gnawing at the old retirement nest egg ;)

    I think that many seniors forget to rebalance their portfolio into bonds, especially since when the stock market is hot, nobody wants to miss out!

    Of course there is alway the vast number of boomers to consider too, once Gen X gets to retirement age, those traditional teenager jobs will be just for teenagers again, because Gen Xer’s are such a small population sample…

    • says

      This is why people should NOT count on their 401K and IRA for retirement. I’m going to hammer home this point over and over again until people get it! Cash is king!

  10. says

    As much as I would like to believe there is fairness, life is not fair. If they are in need of money and they want to work, we have to let them work. Otherwise how can we support all the senior workers who don’t have money to retire. At least the teenagers might find some other way to earn money/experience. I understand it is difficult for the teenagers, but if they really want to work, I have seen they mostly end up getting the work they want. May be it is good that they are starting out with a most valuable lesson – work hard to get what you want, life is not easy.

    Regarding the senior folks who work even if they don’t have to, may be they could consider more volunteering or mentoring younger people if they want to work because they are bored.

    • says

      I agree. Let seniors work so they can support themselves. Give them the pride, independence, and freedom. Feeling like a burden, is a terrible, terrible thing!

  11. Charlie says

    401ks getting shot to pieces is one big reason why people are past retirement – they lost too much to quit working. Man I hate the stock market sometimes. I can see boredom as one reason, but I doubt it’s a greater reason than as seniors needing/wanting income. Healthcare is so messed up in this country and unfortunately seniors have more health issues and need all the help they can get.

    Teens don’t have to work if they’re living with their parents (well assuming the parents are working and able to take care of them). They can focus on getting internships/apprenticeships instead which may not pay but are great for building a resume and figuring out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

    • says

      This is a good topic, wondering whether teenagers should be working for $8/hour at jobs which don’t need much eduction (nothing wrong with this), or working for free at something they really really wanna do to gain experience.

  12. Charlie says

    oops, don’t know if I just accidentally deleted my comment or not. Anyway, I think seniors need more income in most cases and continue to work past retirement. I hope I’m not working full time when I’m in my 60s/70s. I gotta find a job I really love if I do cuz I’d go bananas if I’d still be doing my current job.

  13. says

    Personally, I think older workers are working out of need, not choice. If they were working out of choice, would they choose the $8 an hour job, as opposed to something more suited to their lifelong work experience?

    Younger workers are more tech-savvy, and finding unconventional ways to make money on the internet. Do these alternative streams of income show up on the BLS? I don’t think they do.

    • says

      Quite a pessimistic view you got there Darren. People over 60 just experienced the longest bull market in history and have made a tone of money in the stock and property market. I’m surprised you think they are working for $8 out of necessity.

      They don’t need the money. They are just really bored.

      • Larry says

        “They don’t need the money. They are just really bored.”

        Again, I think your assumptions are wildly divergent from the facts.

  14. says

    I agree with those who imply it’s basically economics. The stock market crash and the fall in house prices played havoc with those on the verge of retirement. I had one client who retired in 2000 and then went back to work until 2008! The two times he retired the market crashed!
    In tough economic times people go back to school. Maybe more teenagers have become full time students.

    • says

      That’s one unlucky client! Out of curiousity, could your client have got better advice so as to not lose so much both times and have to come back to work?

      Where did all the money go for people who’ve been saving and investing since 1975? You don’t think people have savings or low risk CDs?

  15. says

    I would guess that most people working past the traditional retirement age have to instead of want to. This will only continue to grow if the social security full retirement age is increased.

    It is probably impacting younger generations to some extent, but I don’t think there is a larger age group than the boomers so there should be enough jobs to go around once the older boomers start turning 65 next year.

    P.S. I have been very impressed by the 20 somethings I work with. I wish I knew the name of their generation.

    • says

      Hi Bucksome, I’m just startled by how aggressively the chart moved up after 2000. People made boat loads move money from 1998-2000, so you think a lot of them would have sold or saved. Hence, I really don’t think it’s b/c they need to.

      20 somethings are the Gen Y generation.

      • says

        Good point about the timing on that increase (I forgot that part:)). I want to work after retirement but in a different way so I guess I’m part of the problem as well.

        Thanks for the info on generation Y.

      • says

        Sam, I’m lost on the analysis of the chart that you’ve done. It appears that the numbers are in absolutes, not as a percentage of that demographic? How can you draw conclusions on that? There’s a huge number of factors involved there – gender issues (women going into workforce), move from agrarian to urban economy, move from manufacturing to service economy… The period was called Boomer for a reason. Whoever is 65 today was born in 1945, and the baby boom was just gathering steam around then.

        Also, I agree with Larry above, in Canada ~20% of seniors receive employment income and only somewhere around the high 50’s% have investment income. And our savings rates have typically been considerably higher than those of the US for many years.
        http://www4.hrsdc.gc.ca/.3ndic.1t.4r@-eng.jsp?iid=27

        Your readers may be interested in the book How to Lie With Statistics by Darrell Huff – this is a layman’s book, not techie at all:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Lie_with_Statistics

        or “Common Errors in Statistics and How to Avoid Them” by Phil Good.

    • says

      Or perhaps not George, if seniors are doing something about their livelihoods and making more money themselves to support themselves?

  16. says

    Older and more experienced workers offer more value. Young people may be energetic, but the older worker has a better understanding and is more likely to have the discipline to be counted on.

    Why do you think there’s been a surge in older workers and a decline in younger workers over the past 20 years?

    –> Older workers have more of a sense of urgency. When you’re young, there’s no pressing need to get a stable job. As you get older, you start to get more of a sense of the need to support yourself, especially if you have a family.

    Should older workers stop working and give younger workers a chance since they had theirs already?

    –> Absolutely not. If a young person wants a position, they need to do what it takes to get there period. Now if an older person wants to mentor a young person, I am all for that. But the young bucks should pull their weight and earn their position.

    • says

      Jeremy, I agree with you that young bucks should pay their dues and go out and get it on their own. They shouldn’t blame older workers for taking their jobs. Instead, young bucks should go out there and kick some ass and compete to be the best!

      Sense of urgency is a good point. But I donno. If I’m old, and have a ton of money in the bank after 30-40 years of working, I don’t know how urgent I will feel! Whereas if I was young and broke, heck yeah!

      • says

        You make a good point about the sense of urgency Sam. I hadn’t thought of taking into account current earning and years of work. I suppose I was speaking from the stand point of someone who was old and didn’t have a lot of money. But you are right, someone who has worked and paid their dues for 30-40 years and has a lot of money might not have the urgency. Someone young, broke, and struggling may have all the urgency in the world.

        Thanks for your perspective.

  17. Larry says

    4) Quality Of Worker. If you are an employer, wouldn’t you rather hire a clear-headed person with 40 years of experience than someone with practically none? The choice is easy and teenagers are unfortunately being crowded out.

    This is not always true. You are forgetting the factor of age discrimination that plagues any worker over 50. It’s completely illegal but it completely exists. I am close to 62 and have reasonable job security; however I know perfectly well that if my company were to fold or if I were to lose my job in today’s economy, I would probably be forced into retirement or would have to look for entirely new ways to make an income. Employers in fact often feel (rightly or wrongly) that older workers are slow, set in their ways, difficult to mold, not current in their skills, and want too much money. There is also the tension that arises from an older worker reporting to a younger manager.

    As for “stepping aside to let someone younger do my job,” well tough noogies, but I have no intention of doing anything of the sort. I intend to keep my job for at least another 5 years if I can, because that gives me more time to accumulate money for retirement. And although there are lots of frustrations on my job, I prefer working to not working. Conversely, if I were applying for a job and competing with a younger and less experienced person, I would have to make my case at the interview just as they would.

    • says

      Hi Larry,

      Thanks for your thoughts as I was hoping someone over 60 could provide their view point.

      If you are 62, does that mean you’ve had around 40 years of work experience to accumulate savings for retirement? If so, do you think it’s not long enough, which is why you need 5 more years of work?

      If one needs 45 years of work to retire comfortably, that feels a little depressing for us younger folks. Love to hear more of your thoughts.

      Wouldn’t you rather do something else over the next 5 years than work? What it is that you do? Perhaps you have the best job, so you don’t mind working.

      Thnx,

      Sam

      • Larry says

        Sam,

        Since I went to graduate school, took a Ph.D, and didn’t get my first full-time job until age 31, my savings and investing did not start accumulating until that point. I was also given some really bad investing advice, and it took quite a few years for me to find the optimal approach.

        I think some younger people today have learned more about prudent financial management than people of my generation. The savings rate for my generation is on the whole horrid (as I have argued elsewhere in this thead). It was not uncommon for people to accumulate huge credit-card debt and have nothing in reserve. But thanks in large part to the Internet, young people today have better access to information, and the same sources I have been quoting also indicate there is a more prudent strain in at least some percentage of the younger population:

        “(On the other side, it’s pretty amazing that 10% of workers between 25 and 34 have over $100,000 in retirement savings, so it’s not impossible, which totally blows away both my expectations and what we know about average retirement savings)”
        http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/working-americans-have-almost-no-retirement-savings.html

        Even with all the ups and downs I’ve had, I am still supposedly in the top 10% of savers for my age group. But if there is one factor that consistently seems to point to a more successful retirement, it is working just a few years longer. I can take it.

  18. says

    It is what it is, but if many of the older workers are in the workforce because they need to as opposed to boredom as the driving force, them work!

    By my way of thinking, I will feel sympathy for an very old employee vs a very young one.

    • says

      This is the point of contention.. whether they are bored or b/c they need to be. I think the large majority reason why more older folks are working is because they are bored. Let’s say a 80/20 split.

      Those in their 60s+ just went through the longest bull run in history! They are rolling in dough!

    • says

      What do you mean? Look at the past 50 year chart of the S&P 500 and the property market. It’s been an amazing run of wealth creation up until 10 years ago.

      What are all these people doing with their money? I don’t believe the statement one bit regarding less than 10 grand in their retirement savings. I bet YOU have much more than that. Here we go again where people like to say other people don’t have much, yet we all do have a lot. Funny ain’t it?

      Sam

      • Larry says

        Did you read the article I linked to? Try this one as well:

        http://money.cnn.com/2010/03/09/pf/retirement_confidence/index.htm

        The S&P has no correlation with the savings rate. It’s pretty clear that people have been over-extending themselves on credit for the past few decades. Some have obviously invested well and took advantage of the market, but that’s hardly universal, and if it were, we wouldn’t been in the mess we are today. According to another source, “One-quarter (26 percent) of retirees depend on Social Security as their only source of income.”
        http://www.bankrate.com/finance/financial-literacy/americans-plan-to-work-through-retirement-1.aspx

        As they say, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts. Find me some bona fide research to support the claims you’re making.

        This isn’t about me, BTW, but yes, I have much more than $10K in retirement. I’m not going to say how much, but I got burned in 2008 like so many others, and I’m climbing back now. But depending on what retirement calculator I use, I could be just fine (assuming Social Security is still there for me, which at my age is probable), or I could run out of money around age 85. Frankly, if I make it to 85, I’ll be happy.

      • Larry says

        I replied already, but maybe it got lost electronically. The S&P does not correlate with the savings rate. There are those who took advantage of the market and made out well, but countless others who got themselves into major credit-card debt, lived paycheck to paycheck, and/or took on excessive mortgages. I see nothing from my observations or other reading to make me think the sources I have linked to are in any way inaccurate.

  19. says

    My thought? Retirement exists for two reasons: 1) so that we don’t have to work like animals until we die miserably in the traces, and 2) so that we can get out of the way and make room for the next generation without having to croak over to accomplish that.

    Retirement decidedly is what it’s cracked up to be, if you have the money and the ambition to enjoy it. Obviously, though, if you’re confined to the house because you can’t afford to go to a restaurant, a movie, a play, or a concert and “travel” means a hike around the park, it will not come up to one’s expectations.

    However, the reason so many older people are not retiring at so-called “retirement age” is that you don’t reach retirement age until you can afford to retire. The Recession-That-Is-Not-a-Depression took care of most of my contemporaries’ retirement savings. Trust me. None of us would be working or searching for full-time jobs if we didn’t have to. We lost our shirts in the crash, and so none of us can afford to retire on the schedules we planned.

    True, lots of wealth was created. Before the bust I was worth a cool million. Now I’m worth significantly less than half of that. If my employer hadn’t laid me off, I planned to work until age 70 in an effort to regain some of the wealth that was lost. And if anyone will hire me now, that’s exactly what I will do: work until age 70 or until I can no longer dodder in to the job, whichever comes first. Get outta my way, yuh crazy young pups!

  20. says

    I wasn’t a teen too long ago (10 years) and I never ever felt the world owed me anything so I think this mindset is all too easy to attribute to teens and has always been attributed to teens.

    As for the changing demographic it obviously causes problems but we just have to adapt. Young people may find it harder to get certain office jobs but maybe there will be more openings in green collar jobs that require manual labour such as building eco-parks and such things.

  21. says

    I’ve worked part-time in retail on and off and I see why employers like seniors. They work hard! The seniors I worked with were usually the hardest working. Meanwhile the teenagers were usually off texting or hiding from the managers to avoid any work at all.

  22. says

    You missed one reason, which is that there are a lot more old people in the US than in previous times.

    That said, with immigration still ongoing the US looks set to remain younger on average than other developed countries until well in the 21st Century. It’s very positive for GDP.

    I think a lot of those older workers probably expected to retire, then saw their savings trounced by the bear markets of the noughties. I wonder what the teenagers will do differently?

  23. says

    Oh dear- that is very disturbing information. Seniors are working more than ever because they had their portfolios possibly wiped out by the recent recession, likely.

    My colleague recently retired but decided to continue working part-time, I think she feels that she doesn’t like traveling and she doesn’t want to spend the time dealing with her husband at home, who is already retired. =) I suppose it’s multifactorial.

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