March 2016, Cherrie Bucknor and Dean Baker
A recurring theme in debates over Social Security policy is that workers should be encouraged to work later into their lives by raising the age at which they can get full benefits. Implicit in this argument is that most workers are in a situation where they would be able to work to an older age; however, many older workers stop working because they can no longer meet the physical demands of their job.
In 2010, CEPR did an analysis that examined the percentage of older workers (ages 58 and over) who either worked in physically demanding jobs or in difficult work conditions. This paper is an update of that earlier study and is based on data from 2014.
Using data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and Occupational Information Network (O*NET) it finds that in 2014, 8.0 million workers ages 58 and older (34.5 percent) had physically demanding jobs, while 5.1 million workers ages 58 and older (22.1 percent) had jobs with difficult working conditions. About 10.2 million workers ages 58 and older (43.8 percent) were employed either in physically demanding jobs or jobs with difficult working conditions. The workers who were most likely to be in these jobs were Latinos, the least educated (less than a high school diploma), immigrants, and the lowest wage earners.
Physically demanding jobs include general physical activities, handling and moving objects, spending significant time standing, walking or running, making repetitive motions, or having any highly physically demanding work. Highly physically demanding jobs require dynamic, explosive, static, or trunk strength, bending or twisting of the body, stamina, maintaining balance, or kneeling or crouching. Difficult working conditions include working in a cramped workspace, labor outdoors, or exposure to abnormal temperatures, contaminants, hazardous equipment, whole body vibration, or distracting or uncomfortable noise.