13. Worker Age in Construction and Other Industries
The labor force in the U.S. is steadily and rapidly aging. Between 1985 and 2015, the average age of all U.S. workers increased by 4.9 years, but among construction workers it jumped 6.5 years (chart 13a). Since the economic downturn, the pace of aging in the construction industry has exceeded the pace for all industries combined. The average age of construction workers increased by two years over a seven-year time frame, jumping from 40.5 years in 2008 to 42.5 years in 2015, whereas the average age for all workers increased by less than a year during the same period. In addition, the aging construction workforce was strongly associated with the trend of construction employment. During the housing boom (see page 6), a large number of young workers (particularly young Hispanic workers, see page 14) entered the construction industry, which expanded the age gap between this industry and the overall workforce (chart 13a). This trend reversed during the economic downturn beginning in 2007, as more than two million construction workers lost their jobs within three years (see page 20). While younger construction workers may be more likely to lose their job and less likely to find a job, older workers may stay in the construction industry longer for financial reasons when the economy is not doing well.1,2
Self-employed workers are generally older than wage-and-salary workers (see page 14). Excluding self-employed workers, the average age of construction workers was 40.8 years in 2015, compared to 41.4 years for wage-and-salary workers in all industries (chart 13b).
The age distribution of the construction labor force has also shifted. From 1985 to 2015, the proportion of workers aged 45 to 64 years increased by 59%, from 25.1% to 39.7% (chart 13c).3 Over this same time period, the portion of younger construction workers decreased by 67% for workers aged 16 to 19 years, 49% for those aged 20 to 24 years, and 32% for those aged 25 to 34 years.
Changes in the age composition of the labor force are significantly influenced by aging baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964). The youngest baby boomers will be over 55 years by 2020, which will make those aged 55 years and older a larger share of the labor force than in the past.4 Moreover, people are living longer, and as a result, are working past the “traditional” retirement age of 65.5 At the same time, the age for collecting Social Security retirement benefit has been gradually increasing, which encourages people to work longer.6 Furthermore, increasing competition has led companies to shift from defined benefit to defined contribution pension plans (see page 27), and to reduce or eliminate health care benefits for retirees (see page 26).7 For these and other reasons, older workers have increased their labor force participation and full-time employment. By 2024, 25% of all U.S. workers will be 55 years or older, and 8% will be 65 years or older (chart 13d).
These demographic shifts have made the issue of ensuring healthier workers, especially those of advanced age, much more pressing.8 To address this issue, research and policies are urgently needed to identify and promote effective programs and intervention techniques and strategies that can meet the safety and health needs of older workers.5,9
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1. Ondrich J, Falevich A. 2016. The great recession, housing wealth, and the retirement decisions of older workers. Public Finance Review 44(1): 109–131.
2. Szinovacz ME, Davey A, Martin L. 2015. Did the great recession influence retirement plans? Research on Aging 37(3): 275–305.
3. All numbers cited in the text, except where noted, are from the 2015 Current Population Survey. Calculations by the CPWR Data Center.
4. Toossi M. 2015. Labor force projections to 2024: The labor force is growing, but slowly. Monthly Labor Review 1-36. http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2015/article/labor-force-projections-to-2024.htm (Accessed February 2016).
5. University of Washington. Designing the age friendly workplace. https://agefriendlyworkplace.squarespace.com/ (Accessed November 2016). The labor force projections are converted from the Census Bureau’s population projections using the Census 2010 population weights as the base, considering the size and composition of the population (e.g., deaths and net immigration), as well as the projected composition of GDP (see page 4) and the demand for workers in various industries and occupations. https://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_projections_methods.htm (Accessed January 2017).
6. U.S. Social Security Administration. 2016. Understanding the benefits. https://www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-05-10024.pdf (Accessed March 2016). The age for collecting full Social Security retirement benefits will gradually increase from 65 to 67 over a 22-year period beginning in 2000. By 2033, there will be 2.1 workers for each beneficiary. https://www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/2015/II_D_project.html#132991 (Accessed March 2016).
7. Levy H, Buchmueller T, Nikpay S. 2015. The effect of health reform on retirement. University of Michigan Retirement Research Center, Research Paper No. 2015-329. http://ssrn.com/abstract=2697092 (Accessed January 2017).
8. Vatsalya V, Karch R. 2013. Evaluation of health determinants for sustaining workability in aging US workforce. Advances in Aging Research 2(3): 106–108.
9. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. 2016. Productive aging and work. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/productiveaging/ (Accessed November 2016).
Chart 13b – Excludes self-employed workers.
Charts 13a and 13c – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 1985-2015 Current Population Survey. Calculations by the CPWR Data Center.
Chart 13b – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2015 Current Population Survey. Calculations by the CPWR Data Center.
Chart 13d – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment Projections: Civilian Labor Force, 2014-24. http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_data_labor_force.htm (Accessed February 2016).
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