The nation is heading into the next century with an aging work force that will include increasing numbers of workers forced to stay on the job longer because they cannot afford to retire.
That outlook emerged from the Workforce 2020 report of the Hudson Institute, a conservative think tank.
The report also raises the specter of a work force increasingly divided by education and skills into the “haves” and “have nots,” with little hope for the low-skilled unless major changes are made in education and employment policies.
The work force is expected to remain dominated by white non-Hispanics. But Hispanics, a population grouping that includes whites and blacks, gradually will displace African-Americans as the largest minority ethnic group in the work force, the report said, drawing on U.S. Census projections.
But the biggest single workplace change taking place over the next generation will be the aging of the work force, according to the authors. “The American labor force will become somewhat more brown and black in the next 20 years, but its most pervasive new tint will be gray,” the report said.
The authors warned that “U.S. public policy as well as many employers have yet to come to grips with the full implications of America’s aging.”
The report highlights the retirement dilemma to be faced by many in the “baby boom” generation - Americans born between 1945 and 1965, who will begin to reach age 65 in the year 2010.
“By the year 2020, almost 20 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 or older.” the report said. “There will be as many Americans of ‘retirement age’ as there are 20- to 35-year-olds. America’s aging baby boomers will decisively affect the U.S. work force, through their departure from and continued presence in it.”
Many workers in the baby boom generation will not be able to afford to retire when they reach age 65, according to the report. “Some who reach age 65 will continue to require outside income and will be unable to retire. Many others will not want to retire and will seek flexible work options. As average life expectancies extend past 80 years of age, even many of the well-heeled will conclude that 20 years on golf courses and cruise ships do not present enough of a challenge,” the report said.
This demographic phenomenon, the authors predict, will force public policy-makers to come to grips with the building pressures on both the Social Security system and Medicare. And, they said, it will force employers to rethink their employment and benefits policies to deal with the problem of older workers.
In the workplace, the authors said, employers and workers will have to change their ways to accommodate the growing number of older workers among them. For employers, this means devising a new benefits scheme for such things as health coverage to meet the needs of the elderly and long-term care.
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