Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Older Workers and the Lump of Labor Fallacy

by Bill McBride on 12/22/2010 06:58:00 PM

Paula Span writes an excellent piece about older workers in the NY Times: Toil and Trouble

“There are some pretty striking changes going on,” said John Rother, AARP executive vice president for policy.

I’ll say. Sifting through the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, AARP analysts found that the number of workers ages 75 and older (meaning they’re employed or seeking employment) has grown to about 1.3 million in 2009, from just under half a million in 1989. That’s still a small sliver of the population over age 75, just 7.3 percent, but a big jump from the 1989 labor force participation rate of 4.3 percent.
Paula Span notes that this trend has been going on for some time, and can't just be blamed on necessity.

Labor Force Participation rates over 55 age groupsClick on graph for larger image in graph gallery.

This graph is from my posts on Labor Force Participation Rate: What will happen? and Labor Force Participation Trends, Over 55 Age Groups

The graph shows the participation rate for several over 55 age groups. The red line is the '55 and over' total seasonally adjusted. All of the other age groups are Not Seasonally Adjusted (NSA).

The participation rate is trending up for all older age groups.

Unfortunately Span concluded:
So to that Wisconsin reader who grumped, “Too many older people (professors, Morley Safer, etc.) continue to work for selfish reasons, thereby taking jobs from the young and unemployed” — I’m afraid you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
That is a classic lump of labor fallacy. This is a common error people make with immigration - that immigrants displace other workers, when in fact immigration increases the size of the economy. I suspect we will see more and more of this age related "lump of labor" fallacy. The number of jobs in the economy is not fixed, and people staying in the work force just means the economy will be larger.