Oregon: Number of older workers quadruples

Back in the ’90s it was pretty uncommon to find someone in Oregon working past age 65.

There were just 27,000 such older workers statewide in 1992, according to U.S. Census data. That was just about 1 in 50 workers across the state.

But the picture changed dramatically in the intervening years. In a newly published analysis, Oregon state workforce analyst Henry Fields reports there are now 124,000 Oregon workers over 65.

In recent years, as many as one-fifth of Oregonians over 65 were working or seeking work.

“Is an increase in older workers a cause for celebration or alarm?” Fields asks. “As is the case with so many economic questions, the best answer is probably, it depends.”

It’s clear that people are healthy longer than they used to be — making it physically possible to work at an older age. Many people enjoy their jobs and are happy to continue doing it, and to continue earning money they can use in their eventual retirement.

It’s just as clear, though, that many workers cannot afford to retire.

Sixty percent of American private-sector workers had pensions in the early 1980s. Now, just 4% do.

In a study released earlier this year, the General Accountability Office found that nearly half of American households with a member over age 55 have no retirement savings at all. That means they will be relying on Social Security. Fields notes that Social Security often covers just 40% to 50% of what workers earned before they retired.

Older workers are more common in Oregon’s rural counties, where they sometimes constitute more than 10% of the total workforce.

The sectors in which older Oregonians work aren’t always intuitive, Fields found. Some, like real estate, are less physically demanding. That’s a profession where years of experience, and a long client list, might prove especially beneficial.

However, Fields also found that labor-intensive natural resources industries including agriculture, forestry and logging also have relatively high numbers of older workers.

It’s not just Oregon – Census data shows that the number of older workers is rising nationwide. The trend is especially pronounced here, however, and the reasons aren’t entirely clear.

In the past quarter century the number of workers over 65 has more than tripled nationwide, according to Census data. In Oregon, the tally has grown 4.5 times.

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