Who’s working?

Not all adults want to work. For example, millions of adults who are retired, engaged in child rearing at home, or in school are not classified as being in the labor force. But, as N.C. State University economist Mike Walden explains, there have been significant changes in recent decades when it comes to who wants to work.

“What the bottom line here is, there’s been a shift to older workers away from younger workers. Let me give you the details:

“We’ve seen people who are older — let’s say over 55 — actually working longer and becoming a more significant part of the labor force.

“Now why are they doing that? Well, I think they’re concerned about the retirement situation, and of course recently with the recession and what the recession did to household wealth, they’re trying to recover that loss well.

“At the same time, though, that we’ve seen older workers working longer, we’ve seen the participation of younger people in the labor force go down. By younger people I mean those between 16 and 24. It’s declined significantly.

“I think a couple of reasons here: Clearly the biggest is that more young people are going to college. So that extends their time getting educated and extends their time at which they first get into the labor force.

“But also there’s been a significant decline in the available jobs for young people who did not go to college traditionally — who immediately went, let’s say, from high school to work. And I’m talking about manufacturing jobs and construction jobs, and we’ve seen a large increase in the numbers of those young workers who are not in the labor force, I think due to decline in those types of jobs.”

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