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Home Press Center Press Releases Millions of Older Workers in Occupations Classified as Physically Demanding or with Difficult Work Conditions

Millions of Older Workers in Occupations Classified as Physically Demanding or with Difficult Work Conditions

For Immediate Release: August 5, 2010
Contact: Alan Barber 202-293-5380 x115

WASHINGTON DC - Among the proposals to cut Social Security, raising the age of retirement as high as 70 has emerged as one of the most likely scenarios. As with most of the suggested cuts, little consideration has been given to the potential impact on retirees. A new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, examines the occupations of older workers in physically demanding jobs or jobs with difficult work conditions to better assess the impact of raising the retirement age on these workers.

"Many older workers are in jobs that require substantial physical effort, jobs that may not afford them the option of working into their 70s in order to get full retirement benefits," said Hye Jin Rho, author of the paper.

The report, "Hard Work? Patterns in Physically Demanding Labor Among Older Workers," documents the number of older workers in physically demanding jobs or jobs with difficult work conditions. The study examines workers based on a variety of demographic characteristics, including gender, age cohort, ethnicity, and income quintile and shows that in 2009, 45 percent of workers age 58 and older had physically demanding jobs or jobs with difficult working conditions.

The findings of the report include:

  • 37 percent of male workers age 58 and older had physically demanding jobs,
  • Among those age 58 and older, difficult jobs were held by 62.4 percent of Latino workers, 53.2 percent of black workers, 50.5 percent of Asian Pacific American workers, and 42.6 percent of white workers.
  • Older workers with less than a high school diploma had the highest share of workers (77.2 percent) in difficult jobs.
  • 56.4 percent of older workers in the bottom wage quintile had physically demanding jobs compared to only about 17 percent of those in the top quintile.
  • 63.3 percent of older workers in the bottom wage quintile had difficult jobs compared to only about 25 percent of those in the top quintile.

This study demonstrates that a large number of workers would be adversely affected by raising the normal retirement age. As with all the proposals to cut Social Security, careful consideration should be given to effects on the millions of older workers who will have little else to depend on in their retirement.

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