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May 1983, Vol. 106, No. 5
The aging of the U.S. population:
human resource implications
Malcolm H. Morrison
If present demographic trends persist, the proportion of older persons in the United States is expected to increase significantly, particularly after the turn of the century. At present, there is lively debate concerning the labor force implications of such an "older" population. Some analysts have suggested that the projected decline in persons age 16 to 24 in the population will lead to increased demand for, and retention of, older workers. Others have cautioned that, despite demographic changes, factors such as persistent high unemployment among "prime age" workers, increased legal and illegal immigration, sustained growth in women's labor force participation, changing technology, and continuation of recent trends toward early retirement will mitigate against a major shift in the age structure of the work force until well into the next century.
Because so many considerations influence the choice which older persons make between work and retirementsuch as availability of retirement benefits, health status, job opportunities, training, and education, and personal preferencesit is difficult to draw reasonable conclusions about the future age composition of the labor force. This problem becomes more complicated because economic conditions, which directly affect aggregate demand for labor, cannot be predicted with certainty.
Nevertheless, it is essential to consider available demographic and labor force data and projections in the development of human resource policies for the future, because the "aging" of the pool of workers could have profound societal and economic implications. For example, an older labor force will pose a series of challenges to human resource managers, who may be required to tailor new and more flexible personnel policies and employee benefit plans to the needs of older workers. And, the probable effects of demographic changes have added significance for future retirement policies, for the overall costs of social security and private pensions depend critically upon the length of the retirement period or, conversely, on the mean duration of employment.
This article focuses on demographic and labor force trends and their implications for the future employment of older workers. It includes a review of data and projections for the population and labor force; a discussion of likely industrial and occupational shifts; and an inventory of the characteristics of older workers. It seems proper at this point to caution the reader again that the accuracy of any forecast is questionable, and that longer-term projections, such as those presented below, are more unreliable than those made for the short term. Thus, while the following discussion deals with a number of likely future scenarios, it by no means exhausts the list of possible outcomes.
This excerpt is from an article published in the May 1983 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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