Older Minority Workers in Demanding, Difficult Jobs
A reason not to raise Social Security's retirement age?
A new study estimates that “10.2 million workers ages 58 and older (43.8 percent) were employed either in physically demanding jobs or jobs with difficult working conditions” — with high older proportions of Latinos and African-American workers, as well as those with poverty incomes, immigrants or low educational levels.
That, say the authors of the report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) should give pause to both conservative presidential candidates and some liberal policy experts, who have recommended raising Social Security's Full Retirement Age.
“Forcing older workers to work later into their life would pose a serious hardship for the millions of workers who work in physically demanding jobs or in difficult working conditions,” stated the report’s co-author Cherrie Bucknor in a media announcement.
Tough Jobs for Older Latinos, Blacks and Asians
Although the findings show some improvements compared with CEPR’s research five years earlier, the new report is sobering for every group of workers ages 58-plus. The report shows that six-out-of-10 older Latino workers, nearly half of black and Asian workers and four-in-10 whites are doing difficult physical labor or are in stressful employment situations.
For those with less than a high school education, 81 percent were in grinding jobs — up from 77 percent five years before. And 55 percent of older immigrants are in physically tough jobs or hard working conditions.
CEPR looked at such physically wearing jobs as retail sales workers, maids, restaurant employees, home health aides, construction laborers and elementary school or middle-school teachers as well as those in occupations that place them in difficult working situations. Many are under continual stress such as from laboring outdoors, sometimes in extreme weather, around contaminants, in cramped workspaces or working close to hazardous equipment.
Bucknor and colleague Dean Baker, CEPR’s co-director, emphasized their data indicate that proposals to increase the Social Security retirement age would relegate many workers to “serious hardship by working later into their life.” Especially affected, the wrote, would be “racial and ethnic minorities, less educated workers and lower earners.”
Their new report, Still Working Hard, argues that this policy recommendation, by public officials of both parties and some academic experts, “ignores the fact that increases in longevity disproportionately apply to those in higher-income brackets and that many workers cannot continue to meet the physical demands of their job.”
One seemingly positive finding is that since CEPR’s 2010 analysis, there has been a “significant decline” in the share of older workers in jobs with high physical demands compared to their earlier study. The new report adds, though, “those declines disproportionately went to better-educated and higher-paid workers.”
Along with a reduced share of older workers whose jobs exposed them to difficult conditions, these declines were modest between CEPR’s 2010 and 2016 reports.
Up 20 Percent Since the Recession
Bucknor and Baker continue, though, that because the actual number of workers has risen substantially with the aging of boomers, the ranks of older workers in physically demanding jobs or challenging conditions jumped in only five years by 20 percent — from 8.5 million to 10.2 million people. An average of 10,000 boomers reach age 65 every day.
The study, based on data from the U.S. government’s Current Population Survey and the independent Occupational Information Network, also found that slightly more than half of older male workers toil physically or in strain settings, compared with more than one-in-three older women workers.
Meanwhile, among the lowest-paid older workers in the U.S., almost two-thirds of people in the bottom 20 percent of wages endure strenuous occupations or strained working conditions. And slightly more than half in the next highest 20 percent of earnings labor with physical stress. As for working elders at wage levels in the middle, 44 percent still sweat for their money.
The study concludes, “From the standpoint of plans to increase the Social Security retirement age, these data indicate that many workers — especially racial and ethnic minorities, less educated workers, and lower earners — would face serious hardship by working later into their life.”