Are Older Workers Capable of Working Longer?

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Disability-free life expectancy had been rising continuously in the United States until 2010, suggesting working longer as a solution for those financially unprepared for retirement. However, recent developments suggest improvements in working life expectancy have stalled, especially for minorities and those with less education. This paper uses data from the National Vital Statistics System, the American Community Survey, and the National Health Interview Survey to assess how recent trends in institutionalization, physical impediments to work, and mortality have affected working life expectancy for men and women age 50, by race and education.

The paper found that:

  • The capacity to work to older ages is still increasing for high-education individuals and low-education Black women.
  • However, no progress has been observed for low-education whites of all genders and Black men.
  • As a result, large shares of those still working at age 62 will be incapable of working even two more years.

The policy implications of the findings are:

  • Raising Social Security eligibility ages may reduce the financial security of large segments of the population.
  • These impacts will be particularly pronounced for Black men and low-education white individuals of all genders.