While many employment indicators for the 55+ were unchanged from June, the July 2017 Employment Situation Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that more people ages 55+ were employed and a lower percentage of jobseekers ages 55+ were experiencing long-term unemployment. Overall, the economy added 209,000 jobs in July, down from 231,000 (revised) in June. The unemployment rate for those ages 55 and older was virtually unchanged at 3.2 percent with 1.2 million of the 55+ unemployed. The labor force participation rate for the 55+ was also unchanged at 40.1 percent.
Spotlight on employee tenure
With unemployment at a 16-year low and many employers concerned about skills shortages, organizations are putting a renewed emphasis on retaining their best employees for as long as possible. An attribute often ascribed to older workers is employer loyalty, best expressed through longer job tenure. BLS data has shown that older workers do indeed stay with their employers longer compared with their younger counterparts. The most recent data on overall median tenure (the point at which half of all wage and salary workers had more tenure and half had less tenure) was 4.2 years in January 2016. This was a decline from 4.6 years in January 2014.
Median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 was 10.1 years, more than three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 (2.8 years). A greater percentage of older workers also had been with their employers for at least a decade compared with younger workers. Workers ages 60 to 64 were particularly likely to have long tenures. Fifty-five percent of workers in this age range were with their employers for a decade or more. Meanwhile, only 13 percent of workers ages 30 to 34 and 24 percent of workers ages 35 to 39 had tenures of 10 years or more.
Many factors can influence job tenures. Education levels appear to influence tenure, with individuals with lower levels of education typically also having lower median tenures. The industry and occupational mix within the economy can also be a factor. For example, public sector workers, which are more likely to include older individuals, had more than double the median tenure of private-sector workers in 2016. Further, workers in management, professional, and related occupations had the highest median tenure, at 5.1 years, while food service workers had the lowest median tenure, at only 1.9 years. Other factors beyond the worker’s control, like widespread layoffs that change with the business cycle, can affect job tenures as well.
Because longer tenure is associated with age, the aging of the workforce could influence tenure rates in the years ahead.
For more details on this month’s employment numbers, check out the July Employment Data Digest, PPI’s monthly review of job trends for those ages 55 and over.
Jen Schramm is a senior strategic policy adviser at the AARP Public Policy Institute. As part of the Financial Security Team, she identifies policy challenges and opportunities related to workers age 50 and above. Through research and analyses of emerging employment trends, she develops policy options to inform AARP’s strategy on work and jobs, including helping older workers find and retain jobs.