The decades immediately following World War II saw a sharp decline in the labor force participation rates of older Americans, due largely to the ever earlier retirement of men. While older persons in search of work have long faced formidable barriers finding it, during the post-war years, the country was becoming richer and using some of the increased wealth to purchase later-life leisure. About twenty years ago, participation rates at upper ages stopped declining and have been inching upward since then. The coming insolvency of the Social Security system, potential labor and skills shortages, and inadequate retirement savings are among the factors expected to put greater pressure on government to implement policies that foster longer work lives, on employers to expand employment opportunities for older workers, and on workers to remain longer in the workforce. This article provides an overview of the weakening labor force attachment of older Americans in the decades following World War II; speculates on what the future holds and why more work later in life may characterize growing numbers of older persons; and discusses a number of issues—such as labor demand and the quality of work—that must be addressed to ensure a productive aging workforce. Although the population and workforce are aging, substantially higher participation rates on the part of older persons are not inevitable.

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