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Still Working in Your 70s? You’re Not Alone

The share of America’s oldest workers will continue to expand in coming years. Here’s why

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When he was 9 years old, Frank Lieberman sneaked into the Mount Eden Theatre in the Bronx and walked out with his first job, earning a $20 tip to pick up sandwiches for a film crew that was working there. Decades later, at age 78, Lieberman is still working in the entertainment industry as president of NY2C, a website and app that offers videos highlighting New York City’s best restaurants, shops and other attractions.

Lieberman started the company in 2017, when he already was older than 70 with a long, successful career as a consultant and dealmaker in film, music and other industries. And he has no intention of slowing down now, making plans to expand his video guide industry to perhaps as many as 30 cities. He notes that working with the college-age students he employs boosts his energy.

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“It’s amazing. I’m becoming younger,” he says. “I never thought I was going to get younger, but I am. I come from a long history of work, and it helps you stay young. The minute you go sit in a rocking chair or somewhere on a bench, it’s over.”

Workers Age 75 and Up Are the Only Growing Group

Percent change in civilian labor force by age, 2000–10, 2010–20, and projected 2020–30

spinner image Bar chart showing percentage changes in labor force, by age group, from 2000-2020 with projections for 2030. In every age group, the percentage of workers has been declining, except for workers 70 and older, who have been steadily increasing and should be at 11.7% by 2030.

Lieberman is not alone in his ongoing enthusiasm for employment past traditional retirement age. A growing share of the nation’s oldest workers are staying on the job longer. While the labor force participation rate — the percentage of the population either working or actively looking for work — is projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to decline for everyone 16 and older to 60.4 percent in 2030, from 61.7 percent in 2020, the share of workers 75 and older is expected to grow from 8.9 percent in 2020 to 11.7 percent in 2030. It’s the only age group tracked by BLS that’s estimated to expand over the 10-year period.

Better health later in life is the primary reason that the numbers of oldest workers are increasing. “COVID notwithstanding, older workers are healthier than they used to be, and that plays a big role,” says Geoffrey Sanzenbacher, an associate professor of economics and a research fellow with the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. “People are able to work longer because they’re healthier longer.”

The need to increase savings for retirement also is driving the trend. Sanzenbacher notes that prior to 1978, when the 401(k) plan was created, previous generations depended on pensions for their retirement income.

“We’re getting into the generations of people who didn’t have pensions, unless they were in the public sector, and I think that really matters for two reasons,” he says. “One is that the way pensions used to operate was there were a lot of built-in retirement dates. There was either a mandate or a strong suggestion to retire at a certain age. And, secondly, I just think people worry more about running out of [401(k) savings in retirement], so they tend to work longer to kind of keep saving longer.”

Sanzenbacher notes that working longer also enables people to delay claiming their Social Security retirement benefits, which can have significant financial advantages. Each month you can wait to claim between age 62, when people first become eligible, and age 70, when the benefit amount maxes out, will result in a bigger monthly Social Security check.

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“Every year you delay, that’s a raise you’re giving yourself forever,” he says.

Physical demands make some jobs harder for the oldest workers

The opportunity to work past age 70 often depends on the job responsibilities. From warehouses to construction sites to home health care, many workers are employed in jobs that are difficult for them to continue to do as they age.

“If you’re a blue-collar worker, working in your late 60s may not be feasible, physically,” Sanzenbacher says. “If those folks financially need to work longer, that’s not great.”

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For example, white men with college degrees in age-friendly jobs often continue working past 65, while those in physically demanding jobs are more likely to retire. The share of white men in physically demanding jobs drops from 29.5 percent for ages 55 to 64 to 15.9 percent for 65 and older, according to research from the Retirement Equity Lab (ReLab) at the New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis.

Black and Hispanic older workers are more likely than white workers to be employed in physically demanding jobs, a disparity that can limit their opportunities to continue to earn income and save for retirement later in life.

“We haven’t had enough advances in making jobs more accommodating for a workforce that’s aging,” says Siavash Radpour, associate director of the ReLab. “Think about all the people who have to stop working because of health issues or because they have to do caregiving at home. So, the main issue is who can actually afford to continue to work.”

Employers will need to adjust the physical demands of some jobs and offer workers more opportunities to build new skills to make the most of the rising numbers of workers who are older than traditional retirement ages.

“These people were not born yesterday,” Radpour says. “If someone is 70, we knew 70 years ago that this person would age, and we knew a long time ago that our labor force was going to look like this today. The solution is to invest more in technology to make workers more productive and reduce the physical demands of jobs, but that hasn’t happened.”

Build New Skills as You Age

Working later in life means that older workers will need to learn new skills along the way, especially if they are in physically demanding jobs they may be unable to do in their 70s. According to AARP Research, two-thirds of older workers are interested in additional skills training. Older Black and Hispanic workers­ — who are a large share of those in physically demanding jobs — show even higher rates of interest in learning new skills.

One resource to find additional training is AARP Skills Builder for Work. The learning platform allows you take self-paced, online courses — many of which are free or offered at a discount to AARP members — that could help you switch jobs or careers. Some free courses include:

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