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The U.S. Essential Workforce Ages 50 and Older: A Snapshot

Workers Ages 50+ Are an Important Part of the Essential Workforce

Well over a third (37.3 percent) of the U.S. essential workforce are ages 50 and older, amounting to 16.1 million workers; almost 15 percent of the workforce, 6.4 million workers, are age 60 or older. 

Among all workers ages 50 and older, nearly a third (30.1 percent) are designated as essential, equivalent to younger age groups. Twenty-nine percent of all workers age 65+ and 27 percent of workers age 75+ are designated as essential.

The Demographics of the 50+ Essential Workforce

Around 27 percent of all male workers have been designated as essential, compared to about 34 percent of all female workers; there are over 2 million more women than men in the essential workforce. Among workers ages 50 and older, there are over 750,000 more women in the essential workforce than men.

Black/African American workers are the group most likely to be designated as essential. In the 50+ age group, White male workers are the least likely to be designated as essential and Black/African American female workers (42.3 percent) are most likely.

Industry and Occupation Membership

Workers ages 50 and older are an important demographic within almost all the essential worker industries and occupations. In the health care sector, for example, 37 percent of workers are ages 50 and older and 15 percent are 60 and older. Workers 50+ also make up one third or more of the workers in transit, critical retail, postal, social services, and agriculture.

Regional Distribution

The share of the essential workforce 50 and older varies across the country. It ranges from 35 percent in the West to 40 percent in the Northeast, suggesting some regions rely more heavily on older workers within their essential workforce.

Low Wage Workers

Twenty nine percent of low-wage workers have been designated essential, and they are most likely to be Black/African American workers. Among low wage workers age 50 and up: 28 percent are White; 28 percent are Hispanic; 30 percent are Asian; 30 percent are American Indian, Alaskan Native, Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander; 37 percent are Black/African American. Despite their central importance to the health and well-being of the nation, many of the low-wage essential jobs lack sufficient benefits and protections.

Suggested citation

Schramm, Jennifer. Carlos Figueiredo. The U.S. Essential Workforce Ages 50 and Older: A Snapshot. Washington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute. October 2020. https://doi.org/10.26419/ppi.00111.001