A Record Number Of 85-Year-Old Americans Are Still Working

As we saw with Friday's jobs report, the booming US economy has continued to draw in workers from "the sidelines" - ie people who weren't actively looking for work and were considered to be "out" of the workforce - as the participation rate has ticked higher in recent months (though it remains well below its pre-crisis levels). Still, economists have been largely unable to explain how wages have remained stagnant in a supposedly "tight" labor market. But a recent story in the Washington Post might hold a few clues...


According to Census data analyzed by WaPo, the number of Americans aged 85 and older who are still working has risen to record highs in recent years.

Meanwhile, the number of workers between the ages of 18 and 30 who are out of the workforce hasn't been this high since the 1970s, before large numbers of women entered the workforce.


At last count, there were 255,000 Americans aged 85 and older who had been working or looking for work in the past 12 months. That's approximately 4.4% of Americans that age - up from 2.6% in 2006. Indeed, it appears Ruth Bader Ginsburg (85) and Warren Buffett (87) are not alone.

Overall, 255,000 Americans, 85-years-old and over, were working over the past 12 months. That's 4.4 percent of Americans that age, up from 2.6 percent in 2006, before the recession. It's the highest number on record.

They're doing all sorts of jobs - crossing guards, farmers and ranchers, even truckers, as my colleague Heather Long revealed in a front-page story last week. Indeed, there are between 1,000 and 3,000 U.S. truckers age 85 or older, based on 2016 Census Bureau figures. Their ranks have roughly doubled since the Great Recession.

America's aging workforce has defined the post-Great Recession labor market. Baby boomers and their parents are working longer as life expectancies grow, retirement plans shrink, education levels rise and work becomes less physically demanding. Labor Department figures show that at every year of age above 55, U.S. residents are working or looking for work at the highest rates on record.

The oldest workers in the workforce, many of whom have been forced out of retirement for financial reasons, have clustered in 26 of the 455 occupations tracked by the Census Bureau data.


As one might expect, these are industries like sales or management, which don't require physically demanding labor. Farmers and ranchers has perhaps the largest percentage of elderly workers compared with younger ones, according to WaPo.

Crossing guards are relatively likely to be age 85 or above. The same goes for musicians, anyone who works in a funeral home, and product demonstrators like those you might find at a warehouse club store.

But that chart only tells half the story. Few people of any age get the opportunity to work as crossing guards, funeral directors or musicians. So, while they may be elder-friendly jobs, they're not the top jobs for older people.

By sheer numbers, the top job among the 85-plus-year-olds is farmers and ranchers. It's also the one in which the distribution of older workers is most different from the distribution of the rest of the population. That category, which is distinct from farm laborers, houses 3.5 percent of the oldest workers - but just 0.5 percent of the rest of the population.

Generational shifts drive much of the split. When today's oldest workers were entering the labor force, farmers and ranchers had far more options than computer scientists did, and that's shaped their professional choices today, seven decades down the line.

Perhaps the bizarre phenomenon that older workers are entering the workforce at levels never seen before, while a growing number of young people have been sidelined from the workforce for whatever reason (be it because of drugs, illness or simply because they don't want to work), has something to do with the fact that wages are stagnant. According to WaPo, at every age above 55, US residents are working or looking for work at the highest rates on record. Workers who are coming out of retirement, or just trying to hang on in the face of ageism in the workforce, aren't exactly in the best position to negotiate for higher wages.


NidStyles Ambrose Bierce Fri, 07/06/2018 - 23:29 Permalink

They don’t have a choice anymore. Their pensions never kept up with inflation.


Makes me wonder why the current union guys and cops aren’t boiling over this. Their pensions aren’t going to be squat by the time the most of them get around to retirement.


*It’s owned by a woman in Chicago. She’s just playing hard to get, her father won’t let her come up.

In reply to by Ambrose Bierce

brushhog JimmyJones Sat, 07/07/2018 - 08:25 Permalink

We have an old farmer near me, must be 87 by now. He does everything. Cuts wood, makes hay [ for anyone who has not made hay it is one of the most stressful, exhausting jobs on the farm ], plant huge gardens, cans everything, makes repairs, etc..

You watch him and learn. He moves like a turtle or a sloth...ever see a sloth move? Like slow motion. You stop by and say hello he'll stop what he's doing and talk for 20 minutes. But, whenever you pass he's usually out there doing something. The old saying "slow and steady wins the race" is literally embodied in this man. By the end of the season he's got a monstrous pile of firewood, hay for his cows, and vegetables to feed a small army.

Young and strong is great, old and smart is better.

In reply to by JimmyJones

Hubbs justin423 Sat, 07/07/2018 - 09:37 Permalink

@Justin423 Funny you should mention truck driving (CDL) training at retirement age. After the KY Medical Board, ex-wife and attorneys ruined my orthopaedic surgery career which has now left me stranded at age 64 (read about it in my memoirs  My Medical Legal Back Pages . Nom de Plume Bryce Sterling. Archway) I am giving serious thought to it. I figure since I am(was) a licensed pilot, certified scuba diver, and amateur extra HAM radio operator, I might be able to make a go of it. But you never know. The system always seems to find a way to punish hard work, honorable and ethical workers.

In reply to by justin423

Friedrich not Salma Hubbs Sat, 07/07/2018 - 11:18 Permalink

Hubbs, a few years back I saw a docu-movie about a MD who raised his family in a small RV traveling along the coast of Mexico earning money as he stopped in various towns assisting villagers in the 1970s. Not a lot of money but enough to get by. Mexico isn't what it once was but parts of Central or S America have opportunities. Not necessarily operating, but anyone who has had a broken bone realizes what lasting misery can be avoided with a good setting and orthpaedic doc.  God speed to your future.



Movie: Surfwise

Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz

In reply to by Hubbs

helloimjohnnycat 847328_3527 Sat, 07/07/2018 - 10:51 Permalink

When it comes to screwing others, the chosenites are the top dogs.

Before we can draw benefits, it's a common good for more of us to be killed-off.

The money paid in was never ours anyway.  Anyone who doesn't believe it needs to consider the following well-known statement : 

" Possession is 90 % of the law."

Now then, who has possession of the money ?

Case dismissed.

Most have already rolled-over without a fight. Taking the next step is only another six feet farther down. Gravity is our friend.

In reply to by 847328_3527

css1971 FireBrander Sat, 07/07/2018 - 02:50 Permalink

The problem has always been the carbs.

The government recommended diet has probably sent tens of millions to early graves by now, after suffering decades of crippling metabolic diseases.

The "science" base of the recommendations is associational crap.

-> Central planning sucks.

In reply to by FireBrander

Fed-up with be… Pollygotacracker Sat, 07/07/2018 - 11:06 Permalink

YES!  And, High Fructose Corn syrup, which I avoid and the margarine thing.  My long dead younger brother studied this in college and told me:   NEVER eat anything that you cannot pronounce which is a good way to think of the crap additives in food.


America lost its way with this.  AND, many Americans are now obese and very sick due to what goes IN and never COMES OUT.  Why the big cancer issues?  THAT ANSWERS IT.

In reply to by Pollygotacracker

css1971 Fed-up with be… Sat, 07/07/2018 - 11:57 Permalink

HFCS and Sucrose (cane sugar) are both approx 50:50 glucose and fructose, so equally toxic.

The glucose drives up blood sugar and subsequently insulin levels. The insulin drives the glucose out of your blood stream into storage, and if you don't use it in about 30 mins, it gets converted either to glycogen, or  more likely to fat.

The fructose can't be directly metabolised, so your liver converts it into fat.

Starches, are also just converted into glucose by your digestive system:

∴ starch = carbohydrates = sugar = fat

Essentially, bread, potatoes, rice, pasta can be considered just as spoonfuls of sugar.

The fat never comes back out, because raised insulin levels prevent your body from accessing the fat. When insulin is raised it is telling your metabolism that food is incoming and should be stored and consumption of body fat is to be suppressed.

In order to access stored body fat, your insulin levels have to be lowered.


Cheap sugar BTW, is another government programme. Again, central planning killing millions of people.

In reply to by Fed-up with be…

css1971 divingengineer Sat, 07/07/2018 - 13:37 Permalink

There's a bunch of research to be done on fats and oils.

I'd guess that we'll find the more C=C double bonds in the oil, the more fragile and subject to oxidation it is, and the glucose metabolism creates some very reactive oxygen compounds which have to be mopped up to prevent damage.

In a typical western diet you've got a combination of glucose metabolism, lack of anti-oxidants to mop up by products, and cheap, reactive polyunsaturated fats.

I suspect we'll start hearing the term HNE come up more often

=> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4-Hydroxynonenal

=> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipid_peroxidation


A simple strategy to avoid this BTW:

  • Stop eating carbohydrates and make use of the fat/ketone metabolism instead of the sugar one, because it doesn't create the same reactive oxygen compounds that the glucose metabolism does - This is against the US government standard diet pyramid.
  • Consume more anti-oxidants ... Which is still salads, low carb vegetables.
  • Avoid polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils) and use mono-unsaturated and saturated fats instead... Which is exactly the opposite message the US Gov has been handing out during the 40 years that US medical problems exploded out of control and killed tens of millions of people.

The strategy, could be described as "meat and 2 veg".

In reply to by divingengineer

css1971 Raymond Reason Sat, 07/07/2018 - 12:14 Permalink

No. It IS the carbs.

What's different today is that people are no longer allowing their insulin levels to fall back to baseline. Carbs are in everything, are consumed multiple times per day and so maintain constantly high levels of insulin in the bloodstream.

This chronically elevated level of insulin produces long term insulin resistance in the body. This results in "metabolic syndrome". Obesity, high blood pressure, and chronically elevated blood glucose among other symptoms. Followed up some years later by diabetes, Alzheimers, arthritis, heart disease, strokes, cancer and other modern diseases related to a malfunctioning metabolism.


We know it's the carbs because when they are eliminated from the diet, and insulin is allowed to drop back to baseline, the process is reversed.

In reply to by Raymond Reason

one ping only FireBrander Sat, 07/07/2018 - 07:42 Permalink

Every farmer and rancher I've ever known, and there's been a few, has worked his ass off until he was plum wore out and on death's doorstep.

As soon as a man like that starts reducing his work-load, he starts the quickened pace to death. Guaranteed.

Retirement: enjoyed by my grandparents' generation and my parents' generation; no longer a viable option for future generations.

I resigned myself to that fact back in the late 70s, so none of this is a surprise.

In reply to by FireBrander

Endgame Napoleon NidStyles Sat, 07/07/2018 - 08:22 Permalink

The labor force participation rate has gone up by .2. 


It does seem absurd that the young are shirking employment, while a few more of the old work, but it is 100% logical when the insurmountable cost of housing is factored into the low-wages-and-churn-employment equation.

Low-wage jobs are expensive. There is some expense in even going through the hoop jumping to get a fly-by-night, low-wage job, plus a large commute expense and the out-of-reach cost of renting an apartment. When you lack reliable unearned income streams, unrelated to the churn job, the whole thing is expensive.

People casually say to get roommates. While that is much easier for the young crowd of college-age & post-college partiers, it is a very, very different situation after most people your age are married or in other situatuons, like divorced moms whose womb productivity fetched them secure housing in their settlements. 

To all who casually recommend that option to those who cannot afford rent on the ridiculously low pay offered by American churn employers, I recommend that their daughters—what are their names—scour the internet, looking for strangers to room with. That would be a safe and good learning experience for their daughters. 

There is a pretty simple reason why the old can afford to work expensive, low-wage jobs.

The old are among the groups with monthly checks coming in from government, in their case checks from the SS-retirement fund that they paid into at 7.65% or 15.3% of every penny earned up to the $128,400 SS-taxation cap.

When you have a check coming in every month that covers rent, groceries and other major household bills, your wage level and the number of regular work hours you get are irrelevant.


Your rent is covered by your government check, and your wages are just icing on the cake.

Many old people have paid-for houses. Even most of the stay-at-home mothers of previous generations who never worked outside of the home have paid-for houses, with no housing expense, in their old age, while most of today’s working women will not.

Even when the old are unmarried—and thus lacking another earned income stream to help with rent and / or another SS-retirement check—they are just working to supplement their SS-retirement income. 

Ditto for the many younger, married moms who just work to supplement an ample, spousal income, adding keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ money to the household, mostly by dominating the nicer office jobs in safer areas of cities. They are almost always the ones leaving work at 2:30 every day, and for weeks of baby travel soccer, heedless of phones ringing off the hook with paying customers.

“The decor will need to be enough,” said one owner, interviewing me—a woman with  a bachelor’s degree, four relevant licenses, years of sales experience and no spousal income to cover major household bills. The employee who was vacating the position, he explained, had a husband working at X corporation. She was not licensed as usual, but could leave work at 2:30 every day for kids, making up for the teenage-babysitter-level pay. 

Take heart, young people: Such non-hard-working mommas had their non-refundable child tax credits doubled this year, meaning that, due to the progressive tax code, their paychecks are higher than yours, even when you work far more hours.

When you work harder as a single, childless citizen, meeting the quotas every month unlike most of the frequently absentee & above-firing moms, you get punished by the tax code for trying hard to cover rent on one stream of earned-only income.

The dual-high-earner parents———another well-vacationed group———-likewise saw doubled child tax credits. This “needs-the-job” group keeps two jobs that could support two or more households in style under one roof, halving the size of the college-educated middle class. They also double up on “employer-provided” insurance, which is made possible by a $260-billion tax exclusion for their employers. 

Then we have the welfare mommas—the single moms—who dominate the bigly corporate settings, which are often not located in safe areas of cities. They, too, can leave work at will, taking off a ton of time, although in their case it is often official part-time work that strategically keeps them below the income limits for the following programs: free or subsidized rent, free EBT groceries, free electricity, monthly cash assistance in the hundreds, subsidized daycare to accommodate them in working part time and up to $6,431 in refundable child tax credits. 

These groups and others, like the many legal and illegal immigrants in male-breadwinner households with US-born kids and low, traceable income, stay under the income limits for welfare and refundable child tax credits, meaning they do not need for wages to ever rise to rent-paying levels. Their pay just supplements their government checks. 


Per-capita income hovers at $20k (and below) in many states, even though the median household income is the figure always cited. The median income includes spousal income, and most young people are not married. 

That $20k will not stretch across a full range of household bills, and worse, it is no sure thing if you are not in the above-firing momma-work cliques. If you have seen no birth-canal exits—and most young people have not—your “voted best for moms” office job is not even close to safe. You have no job longevity, particularly not when you get close to that UC cut-off date.

That is when the mommas start their bullying rituals, including things like frequently absentee momma managers telling non-culture-fit underwriters in a meeting that the price for the baby-mommy-look-alike-bulletin-board-decorating contest is to get a non culture fit “down in the floor to smear Vaseline all over her shiny, exfoliated face.” 

In sales jobs, your job is not safe even when you are one of the few to show up for work every day, stay all day and meet the sales-generation and account-retention quotas every month, getting high margin on your high sales and not making many mistakes, either.

Work-related things DO NOT guarantee that you will even retain one of American’s many unprofessional-to-the-max, mom-dominated jobs long enough to cover your lease agreement, assuming you can afford it as a single, childless youth or a single, childless, middle-age worker or a single mom with kids over 18 who no longer qualify their mom for freebies from Uncle Sam. 

You have the option to cut your food & electricity budgets to next-to-zero, but if you lose your low-wage churn job, there will still be no extra money to cover rent until you land your next mom-absenteeism-gang churn job, where you can again help to bump up the frequently babyvacationing flex-time-momma manager’s numbers, with her praising you for it until you are bullied out, while she retains her fellow, frequently absentee mom cronies.

They show the proper enthusiasm in the mom-bonding rituals, like the tacky Christmas sweater contest and the Family Day parking-lot picnic. They are as frequently absentee as the momma manager is in the mom-protection racket, with the crony-collusion perks of womb privilege. And momma manager can always churn more hard workers to keep her numbers up. Move along.

It is easy for the moms to afford housing since they are above firing, even when taking off many whole mornings, whole afternoons and whole weeks beyond PTO and pregnancy leave. They are even above firing when they fail to meet the quotas.

Who can’t hold a job with those standards? 

Regardless of performance, if they squeal with enough delight in the baby-mommy-look-alike-bulletin-board-decorating contest and the Halloween dress-up day, in addition to performing bullying-out duties of the non culture fits and back-watching duties during the absences of their fellow moms, they’ll keep their steady, earned income streams.

To get fired, they have to be a manager who is gone all day / every day, coming in only for the financial close-out. I have seen one—and only one—momma fired for extreme absenteeism in an avalanche of absenteeism-gang jobs.

Momma managers make the situation clear in interviews, saying “We have 17 women in here and HAVE to have someone who fits in,” and “YOU do not know what it is like to raise two boys.”

Or, a momma manager gets up in the middle of interviewing an applicant for a higher paying worker’s compensation claims job. At mid afternoon, the momma manager breezily exits the building to get ready for a date, saying “Busy single moms never get a night out.”

Most of the jobs pay too little to cover rent unless you have a spousal income, child support that covers rent or monthly welfare & refundable child tax credits———unless you have the potpourri of 100%-free, non-contributory income boosters from big government that reward out-of-wedlock reproduction in increasing amounts per birth.

Crony-parent managers get to the economic crux of this rigged corruption, letting you know that “The women we have working here have somethin’ comin in.”

A few momma managers admit that—when you don’t have “somethin’ comin’ in” and need for wages alone to cover all household bills, including rent that soaks up more than half of your earned-only income—“There’s just nothing like that out there.”

Most young people, like many middle-age people, simply do not have “SOMETHIN’ COMIN’ IN.”

In reply to by NidStyles

newdoobie NidStyles Sat, 07/07/2018 - 09:17 Permalink

everyone is responsible for their future


Their pensions never kept up with inflation.


When I meet an older couple living their working lifestyle in retirement I shudder

He's not well and she relies on his pension (that stops when he dies)

The vast majority of retired people have to downsize in retirement.


get used to it

In reply to by NidStyles

Lanka Posa Sat, 07/07/2018 - 07:21 Permalink

One 85-year I know is getting $600/mo from Social Security.  The annual cost of living increases have been kept down since they fudged the calculation basket in the 1990s.  Generally speaking, one can not live on only Social Security; it was always designed as a supplement to one's savings.

In reply to by Posa