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Employers Opt For Youth Over Experience In Work Force Dropout Rate Continues To Accelerate For Male Workers Over The Age Of 55

Howard Summers would have been a great guest on the old TV quiz show, “I’ve Got a Secret.”

Summers, a 57-year-old product development engineer who was the victim of a job reshuffle at the Silicon Valley Group, has carefully stripped his resume of anything that would reveal his age. College graduation and employment dates are gone. His cover letters don’t mention that he has 35 years of experience. Instead, he says he’s been working only 15 years.

After attending self-esteem workshops, Summers now concentrates on positive thinking exercises as he drives to interviews.

“I talk about my accomplishments to boost my spirits,” he said.

It’s probably little consolation, but Summers isn’t alone. Steadily, inexorably, men over the age of 55 are disappearing from the U.S. work force.

Where working until 65 was once the norm, more than a third of all men between 55 and 64 are now out of the work force, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s a trend with profound implications for baby boomers, who will start turning 50 next year.

Instead of socking away money for retirement, many men can expect to find themselves jobless and a decade away from their first Social Security check.

The disappearance of older men from the American work force is a long-standing trend, rather than a recent casualty of downsizing. Since 1949, when 87.3 percent of all men 55 to 64 were in the labor force, they’ve been vanishing at about half a percent a year. By 1994, just 64.8 percent were in the labor force.

As older men have been vanishing from the work force, older women have been joining it - at almost precisely the same rate.

Since 1949, when just 23.6 percent of women aged 55 to 64 were in the labor force, their numbers have grown steadily at about half a percent a year to 46.8 percent in 1994.

Economists say there’s no simple explanation. There are complex economic, social and personal forces combining to reshape the labor force.