Who’s working and who’s not?

Date posted: October 19, 2010

As our economy changes, so does our work force. N.C. State University economist Mike Walden explains one change that stands out more than any other.

“It has been in the age composition of the work force. Since 1990 we have seen a major shift. We have seen the participation of older workers in the workforce dramatically increase. In fact, there has been a 10 percentage point increase in those working who are over age 55. At the same time we have seen a dramatic decrease in the work participation of younger people. In fact, there has been a 15 percentage point decrease in those working ages 16 to 24.

“Now of course you want to know why. Well I think several reasons. I think for older people, people in that age group are working more perhaps to increase — supplementing their income. It’s because they still have valuable skills that businesses want. Maybe for some retired people, it gives them focus for their life.

“For younger people, I think the main reason why we have seen workforce participation go down is they are staying in school longer. Also some economists would argue that a higher minimum wage has priced those folks out of the market.”

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