Senior citizens are taking teenagers' jobs

The average 16-year-old worked 40 percent fewer hours in 2010 than 2007. But for workers older than 62, hours have increased.

John Nordell/CSM/File
Senior citizen George Tidd (left) works as a greeter at Wal- Mart. He jokes around with fellow greeter George Bankiya Mulindwa. Increased levels of debt force many retirement-age workers to stay on the job longer, which crowds out younger, less experienced job seekers.

Professor Casey B. Mulligan calculates that 16 year-old workers have fared worse than any other age group during the great recession from 2007 to 2010. The average 16 year-old worked 40% fewer hours in 2010 than 2007. For most age groups the fall in hours worked for that time-period looks to be 5-10%. However, for workers younger than 22 years old the drop in hours worked is much greater.

For workers older than 62, hours worked actually increased. Mulligan seems a bit befuddled by these numbers:

You might think it would make sense for employers to retain their most experienced workers, but downsizing employers tend to offer and encourage early retirement to people in their 50s and early 60s, who are paid more than recent hires and are starting to think about leaving the workplace.

But older workers can’t leave because they’ve taken on too much debt. E. S. Browning writes for the Wall Street Journal:

Most people used to pay off their debts before retiring. But as wages have barely kept up with rising prices over the past 35 years Americans have pushed debt higher, living beyond their means. Now, people are postponing retirement, cutting living standards or both.

Mulligan makes the point that the “ability to efficiently find a new job in a tough labor market is a skill, and people tend to accumulate that skill with age.”

Thousands of young people are missing out on developing that skill.

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