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September 2008

AUGUST REVENUE (in millions): SALES TAX: $2,008.0 OIL PRODUCTION: $159.2 NATURAL GAS: $307.4

Around Texas

Bizjournals, publisher of the popular American City Business Journals, has ranked Houston, Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth as the top three cities respectively in a study of U.S. job markets. The study, “America’s 10 Hottest Business Markets,” also ranks San Antonio sixth in the nation.

American Airlines is one of the “Top 60 Companies for Hispanics,” according to a study published by Hispanic Business. The Dallas-based company was ranked 32nd in the report, which used variables including hiring data, promotions and marketing and supplier diversity.

Marble Falls has been rated by as one of “Six Terrific Towns on the Water.” The publication cited affordable home prices, natural resources and the planned construction of a new regional health center.

The Well-Seasoned Work Force

Texans are living – and working – longer in the new century.

by Bruce Wright

Texas is aging – but aging isn’t what it used to be.

The average age of all Americans has moved steadily upward in recent years, due to the graying of the nation’s 76 million baby boomers. While Texans are younger than the national average, the effects of this behemoth generation’s passage through history are being felt here as well.

But don’t invest in rocking-chair companies just yet. Many of today’s seniors, the healthiest and longest-lived in U.S. history, are likely to pass on traditional retirement and stay active. And they can play a major role in the economy at a time when the overall labor force is growing slowly – if they can get the flexibility they need to stay productive and enjoy life, too.

Gray Texas

Texas is still a comparatively young state, with a median age of 33.1 years versus 36.4 years for the nation.

But the impact of aging boomers is being felt here. The Texas State Data Center projects that the median age of Texas residents will fall between 35.3 years and 36.7 years by 2020, depending upon various assumptions concerning birth rates, mortality and immigration. By 2030, the anticipated median age will be from 37.1 to 38.5 years.

And Texans are more likely than other Americans to continue working after 65. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 2.3 million Texans were aged 65 or older in 2006, and 15.6 percent of them – more than 363,000 – were still in the labor force (defined as those employed or actively seeking work). In the national work force, by contrast, just 14.5 percent of those 65 or older remained.

The Long Shift

Historically, American seniors often remained on the job well into what we now think of as retirement age. In 1948, for instance, 27 percent of Americans aged 65 or older were still in the labor force, as were 47 percent of all males.

But the share of seniors working declined steadily over the next several decades, due in part to the development and expansion of government programs such as Social Security, which first began making monthly payments in 1940.

Rising incomes played a role as well, as did the changing nature of retirement itself. As living standards and health care improved, retirement came to be seen less as a relatively brief respite before death and more as a new phase of life.

Seniors’ participation in the work force finally bottomed out in 1985, when just 10.8 percent of them were working or seeking work.

Since then, however, senior participation has risen fairly steadily. And in recent years, the share of workers remaining on the job after 65 has increased sharply. In 2007, 16 percent of them were in the work force.

Still on the Job

According to a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of employed Americans aged 65 and older rose by 101 percent between 1977 and 2007; the total number of employed Americans, by contrast, rose by just 59 percent over the same period.

Older women accounted for much of the increase in senior workers. Over the 1977-2007 time period, the number of employed women aged 65 and older rose by 147 percent, nearly twice as fast as the 78 percent rate for men.

Some of this trend can be attributed to the overall increase in population – but not all. According to BLS, the total U.S. population rose by just 60 percent between 1977 and 2007. The much higher increase in 65+ employment makes it clear that an increasing number of seniors are staying on the job or returning to the labor force.

“Boomers are going to live longer than any preceding generation.” – Mary B. Young, the Conference Board

Fast Growth in the Work Force

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the U.S. labor force to grow by just 8.5 percent between 2006 and 2016 – but the senior work force will expand nearly 10 times as fast. The number of youngest workers, those aged 16 to 24, has declined by 6.9 percent.

Projected Percentage Change in
U.S. Labor Force by Age, 2006-2016
16 to 24
25 to 54
55 to 64
65 to 74
75 and older

And these patterns occurred independently of the baby boomers, the oldest of whom have not yet reached the age of 65. Their aging will only accelerate the trend.

The BLS report estimates that the total number of U.S. workers will rise by just 8.5 percent between 2006 and 2016 – but the count of workers aged 65 and above will rise by more than 80 percent over the same period. The number of workers aged 25 to 54, by contrast, will remain almost static, increasing by just 2.4 percent.

“If you look at the demographic trends, we really aren’t growing the domestic labor force very rapidly, and probably won’t for the next 20 years,” says Christopher King, director of the Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources at the University of Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. “You can pick almost any occupation you want – machinists, teachers, nurses, doctors – and we’re simply not going to be able to meet the demand with workers in the prime working ages. We need seniors to be working longer.”

Preference or Necessity?

Some older people, of course, continue to work because they must. A recent survey by AARP found that more than a fourth of the nation’s workers aged 45 or older have postponed plans to retire, a finding the organization attributed to poor economic conditions.

“There’s more uncertainty,” says King. “Even if they’ve been putting away money for retirement, given what’s been happening in the stock market, they’re nervous. So I think that even if people take retirement, they’re going to keep on working in some fashion because they just don’t know how well their investments are going to pan out.”

"We need seniors to be working longer." – Christopher King, director of the Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources.  Photo by Barbara Schlief.

“Many can’t afford to [retire],” says Mary B. Young, a senior researcher with the Conference Board who studies issues related to the aging work force. “This is going to be common for boomers. It’s not only about needing additional income, it’s also about needing health benefits.”

Regardless of their economic circumstances, however, many persons nearing the traditional retirement range have no inclination to trade the workplace for a fishing pole. They simply have too many years of health and vitality before them, and that time seems to be lengthening steadily. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that each American’s average life expectancy at birth rose from 68.2 years in 1950 to 77.8 years in 2005, and medical breakthroughs are expected to further lengthen life spans.

“Boomers are going to live longer than any preceding generation,” Young says. “The prospect of retiring at a ‘normal age’ leaves them with a huge expanse of time that’s much longer than when the retirement age was originally set at 65.”

And many will choose to stay active. In 2003, for instance, AARP reported that 68 percent of workers between the age of 50 and 70 planned to work in retirement or simply to never retire.

The Senior Advantage

Older employees offer real advantages. “There are traits older workers tend to have that are very desirable,” says Young. “They tend to have very good customer service skills. And because they’re older they tend to have good judgment, a kind of wisdom they can provide.”

And retaining older workers is good for businesses’ bottom line. The National Governor’s Association reports that replacing a seasoned worker can cost business the equivalent of half of the worker’s annual salary – as well as valuable institutional knowledge. And older workers benefit the broader economy, since they are less likely to rely on social programs for income and benefits.

Furthermore, the notion that older workers may be “slowing down” is a cliché at best. A 2005 AARP study, for instance, found that “Older workers are more motivated to exceed expectations than their younger counterparts.”

“When we surveyed older employees, we found that a significant number of them still want to progress in their careers,” Young says. “It’s a common mistake to assume that, because somebody’s at a certain age, they must be thinking about phasing out.”

But older workers do want more flexibility in their work schedules. “The majority of baby boomers say they want to keep working,” says Young. “But they all want flexibility. They might want to work seasonally, or part time, or on a project basis.

“There’s what we call phased retirement, and it can come in many forms, such as rehiring retirees for limited amounts of time, or allowing someone to go from full time to part time,” Young says. “Some form of it would clearly meet the needs of many older people, and could meet the needs of companies as well. It’s particularly good because employers can use phased retirement as a way to transfer knowledge from one generation to the next.” FN

Keep Keepin’ On

About 15.6 percent of Texas seniors were still in the labor force in 2006, a significantly higher share than the national rate of 14.5 percent.


Texas total civilian population 16 years and over: 17,623,070



Not in labor

Texas 65 and older civilian population: 2,329,442



Not in labor force


U.S. total civilian population 16 years and over:



Not in labor

U.S. 65 and older civilian population: 37,191,004



Not in labor force

Source: U.S. Census Bureau 2006 American Community Survey

For more information about seniors in the American work force, see the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ July 2008 “Spotlight” report at

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