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The Great American Expedition Sweeps—Enter Now

Breaking The Silver Ceiling: A New Generation of Older Americans Redefining the New Rules of the Workplace

Testimony Before the Senate Special Committee on Aging

Witness: Douglas C. Holbrook Vice President/Secretary-Treasurer Aarp Board Of Directors

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I am Douglas Holbrook, and I am a member of AARP's Board of Directors. Thank you for convening this hearing to promote an under-used resource — the older worker.

With more than 35 million members, AARP is the largest organization representing the interests of Americans age 50 and older and their families. About half of AARP members are working either full-time or part-time. All of our working members have a vital interest in being able to remain on the job, earning a living, and contributing to society without facing age discrimination by their employers.

Protecting and expanding older workers' rights was a founding principle of AARP. Today, AARP is the leading organization advocating for older workers at the federal and state court levels, before Congress and state legislatures, and before enforcement agencies. AARP works closely with other organizations seeking fair treatment for those in the workforce, as well as with employers to develop policies that enhance opportunities for, and eliminate discrimination against, the ever-increasing number of workers who stay on the job past age 55.

AARP has embarked on a multifaceted effort to identify employers and programs that provide employment opportunities and acts as an information clearinghouse for employers and workers.

I. Older Workers: Today and Tomorrow

As of July 2004, more than 23 million persons aged 55 and older were in the labor force, an increase of nearly one million over the previous 12 months alone. The labor force participation rate for men in this age group also rose, continuing a trend that began in the mid-1980s after decades of decline. In recent years, labor force participation rates have been rising even among persons in their late 60s and 70s-beyond the age of traditional retirement.

Despite the increase in the number of older workers in the United States, the labor force participation rates of older Americans are well below what they were in 1950, when 43 percent were in the workforce. Today, just over one in three persons aged 55 and older remain in the labor force. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects continued increases in the participation of older persons. By 2012, BLS projects a participation rate of 65.1 percent for persons aged 55-64, up from 61.3 percent in July 2004. For persons aged 65 and older, BLS projects an increase in participation from 14.3 percent to 15.9 percent between July 2004 and 2012.

By 2012, the oldest boomers will reach age 65, often considered the conventional retirement age. Many will have already retired, taking advantage of reduced Social Security benefits at age 62 or employer-provided pensions at even younger ages. The large majority of boomers say, however, they expect to work in retirement. AARP's recent research on 1,200 boomers' expectations for retirement found that about 80 percent of boomers plan to work in some capacity during their retirement years. Over half of these boomers, aged 38-57 at the time of the study, expect to work part time, and 15 percent say they plan to start their own businesses.

Whether 80 percent of boomers stay in the labor force into their late 60s or even later remains to be seen. Retirement may look more appealing to boomers as they approach that age. In fact, over the past five years, the proportion of older boomers (ages 48-57 in 2003) planning not to work in retirement has increased by seven percentage points to 23 percent.   

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