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Help wanted signs in the windows of businesses in Crested Butte, Colorado on Saturday August 14, 2021. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The number of all workers in Colorado’s labor force fell in the first year of the pandemic, with notable declines among those 55 and older.

But just like the rest of the population, older workers are returning to work. 

A slightly larger percentage of people between ages 55 and 64 are part of the state’s labor force today, at 70.3% compared with 68.1% in 2019, according to the latest labor data. And while workers 65 and older aren’t back at the same pre-pandemic rate, their overall participation in the labor force is double what it was two decades ago. 

Data from the state labor department breaks down the estimated number of workers in the chart below by age group (the blue columns) and how many are laboring away (the light green line). 

The growing number of older workers in Colorado aligns with the fact that the state’s population is getting older. We’ve known this was happening for decades as new residents moved in to raise a family or start a business. The state’s median age is now 37.5 as of last year. In 2010, it was 36.1, according to census data.

One group in particular is not just returning to work but growing faster than others: women. Particularly, women  55 and older, according to an analysis by Steven Byers, senior economist with Common Sense Institute, a conservative think tank in Greenwood Village.

“I’m looking at 20 years of data and (the trend) indicates females in that age group are continuing to increase their presence in the labor force,” Byers said. “It’s not that surprising to me in one regard. Women live longer than men. You might be getting some women whose spouses have died, their Social Security dropped off or they lost some pension benefit. And not only that, it’s because they were bored.”

When Byers draws a straight line connecting Colorado women in the workforce by age for the past two decades, the line sloping upwards (the red one) shows participation rates of women 65 and older. The youngest, ages 16 to 23, are in decline while the other two age categories are relatively flat.

The rate of women participating in Colorado’s labor force mostly been flat in the last two decades but for women age 65 and older, the trend is definitely going up. (Source: Steven Byers, Common Sense Institute)

It’s been a wacky few years for the labor market as folks left jobs in the pandemic, waited for businesses to reopen and then found options galore as employers scrambled to hire at the same time. It went from no jobs and unrelenting unemployment to too many jobs and down to a 3.3% unemployment rate in July.

Nationwide, workers 65 and over are the fastest growing workforce, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That’s purely due to demographics, said Heather Tinsley-Fix, senior adviser for employer engagement at AARP. Fewer children are being born and people are living longer so they need to support themselves longer. But there are already some dramatic impacts.

“By 2024, workers 50-plus will constitute 35% of the labor market,” Tinsley-Fix said. “Millennials have started to turn 40, the age at which workers fall under the protection of the Federal Age Discrimination Act. … They’re not the youngest generation in the workforce anymore. And from a purely demographic perspective, by 2034, people over the age of 65 will outnumber people under the age of 18. There’s just a smaller group of younger people entering the workforce and there are a larger number of older workers (staying) in the workforce.”

At a national level, fewer older workers are remaining unemployed for more than six months, which is considered long-term unemployed. About 24.2% of workers 55 and older are in this group. In 2015, it was about 45%, according to an AARP report at the time.

There are various reasons for the return of the older worker. A tight labor market continues in Colorado, which is still above the U.S. average rate of job openings, according to the latest labor data

But there’s also the impact of early retirement in the pandemic. Nationwide, there were 3.2 million more people who retired in the third quarter of 2020 compared to a year earlier, according to Pew Research Center.

Two years later, a trend was spotted by hiring site Indeed.com that the rate of those coming out of retirement was on the rise. By March 2022, 3.2% of workers who had been retired a year earlier were now back at work. Back in June 2020, that so-called unretirement rate was 2.1%.

March also coincided with the biggest increase in inflation rates in decades, which may have motivated older workers on limited incomes, said Byers, with Common Sense Institute.

“I really think people want to pad their monthly income a bit because the real purchasing power of their money is dropping off,” Byers said. “The other thing, too, is there is a lot more movement for people to be able to work remotely. That might be attractive for people, particularly older people, who don’t want to bother with the commute.”

Combating ageism

While health may have been a big reason older workers left their jobs in 2020, another appears to be ageism. AARP’s annual survey of workers who experienced ageism spiked to 70% in 2020, up from the usual 61%. It’s back down to 62%. 

And it’s still a big issue, Tinsley-Fix said. “We know from serving older workers that they experience it and it’s part of why they’re not getting hired back.”

She pointed to a survey of 800 hiring managers by ResumeBuilder that found 38% of hiring managers admit to having an age bias when reviewing resumes. And if they don’t do it, 45% said their colleagues do. And 41% say that including a graduation year “makes age bias more likely.”

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Various organizations, including AARP, have asked employers to pledge that they value experienced workers and believe those 50 and older should be able to compete on a level playing field. 

The AARP Employer Pledge has about 1,500 active employers who’ve signed on, Tinsley-Fix said. Approximately 72 are from Colorado, as of Friday.

“We’ve seen a big surge in employers signing it and I think that is because they value older workers but they’re also like, we just need to look at every possible candidate pool,” she said. “The workforce is generationally diverse and it’s a really tight labor market.”

If you see this logo on a business, they have pledged to be an age-friendly workplace for older adults as part of AARP’s Employer Pledge Program. (Provided by AARP)]

Another age-friendly list: The Age-Friendly Institute provides a certification process for companies that want to get their brand in front of more workers. Called the CAFE Program, short for Certified Age-Friendly Employer, looks for employers that provide flexibility and welcomes older adults. >> See the list

  • Earlier in The Sun:What it’s like to hunt for a job in Colorado when you’re over 50 >> Read

Coming up: An event focused on mature workers: The Age-Inclusive Management Strategies Conference is a one-day event featuring aging and work experts and programs to help employers connect with the growing workforce of older workers. It’s set for Sept. 28 at History Colorado Center in Denver and is open to all. >> Register

Who’s still working and why? Take the What’s Working Labor Day weekend poll at https://cosun.co/whosworking

Other working bits

→ It’s Workforce Development Month! Each September, the state’s labor department highlights a bunch of activities intended to help people get trained and find better jobs. Several job and networking events are listed on the agency’s page. >> Check it out

→ Different student loan forgiveness: Westwood College students who were misled about employment, salary prospects and more are getting their school loans forgiven. That includes 5,440 borrowers in Colorado who will see $107 million forgiven, according to the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which requested relief for students back in 2020. Nationwide, 79,000 Westwood students could see their $1.5 billion in loan debt forgiven. >> Details

→ Denver ranks 5th best city to retire: That’s according to real estate data company Clever.  Credit — or blame — the city’s fast-rising home values, which increased 167.6% between 2012 to 2022 (the nation’s rose 126.2%). Other reasons, said Danetha Doe, a Clever economist, “the average Medicare cost is $14.11 versus the national average of $20.30, and the estimated property tax rate is 0.56% versus the national average of 1.2%. >> See the data


Short one this week as we head into Labor Day weekend. But that’s not why. The Colorado Sun has upgraded the backend of our website to make it easier to access stories and become a member. Check out the changes and realize that we’re still tying up loose ends in the background, so patience is appreciated. 

As always, share your two cents on how the economy is keeping you down or helping you up at cosun.co/heyww. See you next week! ~ tamara 

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What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column about surviving in today’s economy. Email tamara@coloradosun.com with stories, tips or questions. Read the archive, ask a question at cosun.co/heyww and don’t miss the next one by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww

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Tamara Chuang

The Colorado Sun — tamara@coloradosun.com Tech+Business+Economy Email: tamara@coloradosun.com...