Feb 12, 2020 - Economy & Business

The aging future of work

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The tightening labor market is opening up new opportunities for an overlooked cohort of American workers: those over age 50.

Why it matters: Ageism has long persisted within American companies, and studies have shown that workers over 50 often get turned away from jobs even if they've got the right qualifications. But the tide may be turning.

The big picture: As societies age, the older population will become increasingly key to global economic growth, both as workers and as consumers.

  • "Nearly all of the employment growth in the G7 is coming from older workers," says Andrew Scott, an economist at London Business School.
  • In the U.S., people over 50 make up $8 trillion of consumer demand, according to AARP.

What's happening: The collision of demographic and employment trends is pushing firms to adapt. "There's a lot of discrimination to overcome, but with a tight labor market and fewer younger workers, it's beginning to change," Scott says.

  • Employment in the U.S. has risen by 22 million since 1998 — and workers over 55 account for 90% of that surge, Quartz reports.
  • The growth is occurring at the high-skill and low-skill ends of the spectrum, Scott says.
  • For example, last year, McDonald's announced a partnership with AARP to hire 250,000 older workers.

Yes, but: While well-paid professionals may enjoy working later in life, many people at the lower end of the spectrum remain in the workforce because they cannot afford to retire, says Scott.

  • And the picture is not entirely rosy. Many older Americans perceive that they lost their jobs due to ageism, and more are taking legal action.
  • In the last year, top firms like Citibank, IBM and IKEA have fielded age-related lawsuits, per Forbes.

The bottom line: "We've ignored how aging is changing," Scott says. "People are aging better than in the past, on average, and that's a fantastic opportunity."

  • But "a lot of American businesses have not adjusted themselves to how to take advantage of this as opposed to looking at it as a negative," Carl Van Horn, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University, tells Axios.

Go deeper: When automation and aging collide

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Work stoppages from labor disputes rose to a two-decade high in 2019

United Auto Workers union members striking in October 2019. Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

3.24 million work days were lost to labor strikes and lockouts in 2019, the most since 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Why it matters: Labor disputes can cost workers and businesses in missed wages, decreased productivity and stunted revenues.

Coronavirus travel restrictions in China hit migrant workers hardest

Migrant workers in Quanzhou City on Jan. 15. Photo: He Canling/Xinhua via Getty Images

Migrant workers will be most negatively affected by the travel limits that China’s local governments have imposed to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, Eli Friedman of Cornell University tells Axios.

What's happening: After travel restrictions were put in place over the Lunar New Year holiday, migrant workers with jobs in cities under lockdown can’t get back to work.

Go deeperArrowFeb 12, 2020 - World

Historically weak wage growth may be the best we get

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The U.S. economy added 225,000 new jobs last month and more workers came into the labor force. But data showed wages again failed to rise meaningfully, and there's reason to worry that growth may have peaked at this relatively low level.

What's happening: Average hourly earnings grew by 3.1% over the last 12 months, according to the January jobs report, and have stayed within the narrow range of 2.9% to 3.2% for much of the past year and a half.