The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) today reported a 3.1% unemployment rate for workers age 55 and older in August, which represents no change from July. Although the economy is still expanding, the fastest-growing job sectors for older workers pay wages so low they claim food stamps.
Most of the job growth for older workers is in unstable or low-paid jobs, including jobs in the home health and personal care aid sectors. From 2016 to 2026, the economy is expected to add 11 million jobs, an increase of 7.4%. In contrast, the home health and personal care aid sectors will add almost 1.2 million jobs, an increase of 43%. In 2008, workers 55 and older made up approximately 25% of home health and personal care aides. Today, they represent a third.*
At just $23,200, the median wage for health and personal care aides is below the national average of $31,100. Their wages are low enough that 14% of older workers employed as health and personal care aides claim food stamps, compared with 4% of all older workers.
Aiming to curtail public subsidies to employers who pay low wages, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and U.S. Representative Ro Khanna introduced legislation to recapture from companies every dollar their workers receive in public assistance.
In the meantime, the growth of low-wage work for older workers leaves many near-retirees unable to afford food, let alone save for retirement. Expanding Social Security and creating Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) will ensure older workers are not stuck in low-wage jobs because they can’t afford to retire. GRAs allow workers to save in safe, efficient investment vehicles over their lifetime.
*Authors' calculations using Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Current Population Survey (CPS).
**Arrows next to "Older Workers at a Glance" statistics reflect the change from the previous month's data for the U-3 and U-7 unemployment rate and the last quarter's data for the median real weekly earnings and low-paying jobs.