Older men staying in the labor force

Something is amiss in the labor market, but don’t blame the boomers.

That is, they might be to blame for something – in fact, they almost certainly to blame for all sorts of things — but they can’t be tagged for making the unemployment rate look artificially good.

The jobless rate – 5.0 percent in the state of Georgia – looks pretty good, but there are some reasons to think the reality isn’t quite as good as the number implies.

The usual results of a tight labor market – rapidly rising pay, lots of help wanted signs, ever-higher numbers of people in the labor force – are just not there the way they were in hot hiring periods like the late 1990s.

And nearly 40 percent of unemployed people have been searching for work for at least six months – that doesn’t sound like a tight labor market.

So some economist and commentators – not to mention the odd political candidate – argue that the unemployment rate doesn’t reflect reality. After all, the share of people actually in the work force – known as the labor force participation rate – fell dramatically during and after the recession and it has not yet come back.

The number of people in the workforce in Georgia, despite population growth, is still not as high as it was before the recession.

Who are those people who left the workforce? Maybe some went back to school. Maybe otherse came out of school and went back to live in their parents’ basements. Maybe some became stay-at-home moms and dads.

And one prevailing theory has been that they are boomers – mainly men – who lost jobs, couldn’t find other work and just got discouraged, gave up and retired early.

Or maybe not, according to some new data, parsed and passed along by Demo Memo.

The share of men age 62 to 64 who are in the workforce is indeed, far lower than it was a generation or two ago. But early retirement seemed to peak in 1995. The share of those workers in the labor force has gone up from where it was before the recession.

Which may support a countervailing theory: older workers are less financially secure and the ones that did keep their jobs in the recession do not want to retire – or cannot afford to.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.