Three years ago, before the recession officially began, 50.3 percent of women
between the ages 55 to 64 were working full- or part-time. As of last month,
that figure had risen to 54.1 percent, according to new figures released by
the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Washington Post observes that the increase is particularly striking when
contrasted with what's happened in every other sector of the workforce. For
all of them, participation has gone down.
The percentage of working men ages 25 to 54 declined during the same period
from 89.1 percent to 86.4 percent. Working women ages 25 to 54 declined from
73.9 percent to 71.6 percent. Working men ages 20 to 24 declined 5.4 percentage
points, women ages 20 to 24 declined 5.1 percentage points, and men ages 55
to 64 declined half a point.
The Post reports that other data helps explain why more older women are in
There's been a growing demand in general for older workers in general, because
they're seen as dependable. And they're seen that way because they're also desperate,
according to Sara Rix, a policy analyst with AARP. Without savings and insurance
as they near retirement age, these people work because they must, not necessarily
because they want to.
That was underscored in a recent AARP survey that asked older workers to name
the single reason they planned to work past retirement age. "Need money"
and "need health benefits" were the top two, above such answers as
a "desire to remain productive or useful," the Post reports.
Among women only, the need for money was the top answer by far, which becomes
more understandable when viewed in the context of another study, by the Institute
for Women's Policy Research, noting that the median annual income of women between
50 and 61 is just under $29,000, about two-thirds of what it is for similarly
"These are among the most vulnerable people in our society, women aged
50 and up," says Heidi Hartmann, an economist who is president of the institute.
Many women on the high side of the median may be executives or managers who
work because they want to, she says, but many on the low side work because their
husbands have lost their jobs, or they lost their savings when the stock market
declined, or they need even the most basic of benefits they otherwise would
not have. "Because they have to," she says.