Grandparents Surpass Grandchildren in the Labor Force

For nearly four decades Baby Boomers have been in the driver’s seat of politics, consumer trends, lifestyle decisions, and jobs.

But 2010 was supposed to be the turning point when Baby Boomers left the workforce en masse, retired off into the sunset, and turned the workforce over to heir apparent Generation X and the up-and-coming Millennials.

But thanks in part to the recession, for the first time on record there are more seniors than teenagers in the American labor force.


The orange line in the chart refers to the number of teenagers — workers aged 16-19 — who are in the labor force, meaning they either have jobs or are actively looking for jobs. The blue line shows the number of workers over age 65 who are in the labor force.

As you can see, starting last fall the number of older workers surpassed the number of teenage workers for the first time since at least 1948, when the Labor Department first began collecting statistics. If you look at just the employment of older workers versus teenagers — that is, how many workers actually have jobs — you will also find that older people surpassed teenagers for the first time recently, in mid-2008.

A recent New York Times article cited three primary reasons for the flip?

1.   There was always a certain percentage of Baby Boomers and the oldest generation, the Veterans, who would continue to work.

2. Older people are having to work longer.

3. The shift away from defined-benefit pensions toward defined-contribution pension plans, plus the sharp declines in equities since the financial crisis have all conspired to make it more difficult for older people to retire.

4. A weak economy plus a higher minimum wage might be discouraging employers from hiring teenage workers.

Regardless of the cause, joblessness in the Gen Y (aka Millennial) Generation is beginning to make history. According to a recent Pew Research Center  survey, a smaller share of 16- to 24-year-olds are currently employed — 46.1% — than at any time since the government began collecting such data in 1948.At best long-term implications of low unemployment for young workers include young adults living at home longer, higher college enrollment, and more internships. But a deep concern is growing how delayed entry into the workforce will translate into employee preparedness, not to mention the loss of lifetime earnings.

More older people needing work + more younger people giving up on work = grandparents surpassing grandchildren in the labor force. But that’s only a short-term statistic? Are we prepared for the long term consequences?

Read More Sobering thoughts on the U.S. Labor Market


Ira S Wolfe


  1. Employee Engagement July 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm -

    We have to be careful and understand that each generation faces a different set of skills and also a different method of engagement.

  2. Anna McMenamin July 20, 2010 at 5:05 pm -

    This statistic is not surprising. The state of our economy is definitely a driving force, but there are also a few other factors at play. The first is the overall improvement in our financial well-being. Even in this down economy, many people are financially better off than they were 60 years ago, and I believe fewer teenagers having to work is a direct result. The second is the increase in life expectancy. As long as we are healthy and able to work, more people will continue to do so past the age of 65. However, I don’t think we are looking at a long-term shift in the balance of generations in the workforce. Eventually, the mass exodus of the Baby Boomers will occur and Gen Y will need to step in. But given the challenges Gen Y has faced in this economy, I think the question is how well will they be prepared? And what types of jobs will we see them in?
    Anna McMenamin,