Long-Term Trends In Employment By Age Group - Thursday, April 8

The dotted lines representing ages 65 and over also illustrate some dramatic changes. A vision of the good life in retirement, assisted by a burgeoning Social Security system, was a standard expectation for pre-Boomer generations. The advent of Medicare in 1965 and Social Security COLAs (cost-of-living adjustments) in 1975 added to their confidence in the Golden Years.

However, the LFPR for the "elderly" flattened out in the mid-1980s and then began increasing — slowly at first and more significantly around the turn of the century, as the numbers for the productive cohort continued to decline. The next chart gives us a clearer look at the relative patterns of growth and contraction since 2000.

Growth Since 2000

Since January 2000, the participation rate for all the elderly has soared by 53.6 percent and for elderly women by 71.6 percent.

The directional arrows highlight a striking trend for the older cohorts. The growth for women has a more dramatic upward slope. The growth for men reached a high in May 2013, contracted until early 2015 and reached an all-time peak in February of 2017. The growth for women is just below its all-time peak.

Labor Force Participation Rate by Age Groups Since 2000

The next chart shows the data for six age cohorts since 2000 with no gender distinction. Two recessions and two savage market selloffs were drivers of the trends we see here. For this close-up, we see the BLS's seasonally adjusted data for the four cohorts ranging in age from 16-54, but only non-seasonally adjusted data is available for the two older cohorts, which accounts for the more noticeable squiggles.

Six Cohort Growth Since 2000

For an apples-to-apples comparison, here is the non-seasonally adjusted data for all six cohorts smoothed with 12-month moving averages.

Six Cohort Growth Since 2000 Smoothed

Another interesting, if less conspicuous, line in the chart of the six age cohorts above is the blue one, representing ages 45-54. Household income data tells us that historically this age bracket constitutes the peak earning years. For more on this topic, see this commentary.

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