Cities with the Highest Percentages of Seniors Still Working May Surprise You

In some places, the share of people 65 and older who still work has risen dramatically

Dana Wilkie By Dana Wilkie July 24, 2019
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​It might not surprise you to know that a place like Washington, D.C.—where living expenses are high and jobs are plentiful—has among the largest percentages of people 65 and older who are still working.

It might be more surprising to learn that the only city where there's a higher percentage of seniors working is the Dallas suburb of Plano, Texas. In fact, of the 10 U.S. cities with the highest percentage of working seniors, half of them are in the Lone Star State.

Those findings come from a recent study that ranked U.S. cities by the percentage of seniors who remain on the job. Provision Living, a St. Louis-based company that provides assisted-living homes for seniors, commissioned the study. Digital Third Coast conducted it.

The study found that in 25 mostly big cities, the number of seniors still at work increased by between 60 percent and 100 percent between 2009 and 2017.

People are living longer. Many are retiring later in life—either because they prefer to keep working or because they can't afford to stop working. Few seniors have employer-sponsored pensions, and their private savings may not be enough to live on. And the age at which one can claim full Social Security benefits has gradually increased.

All of these could be reasons that seniors are working longer, said Patrick Button, assistant professor of economics at Tulane University and a researcher with the National Bureau of Economic Research Disability Research Center.

"It seems more common now for people to gradually transition to retirement rather than to go from working to not working at all," he said. 


Texas Cities at the Top

In May, Digital Third Coast analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from 2009 to 2017 for cities with populations of 200,000 or more. The BLS data weren't broken down by types of senior workers—whether full-time, part-time, contractors or self-employed.

The analysis found that in 25 cities, 20 percent or more of seniors are still in the workforce.

At the top of the list is Plano, followed by D.C., then Anchorage, Alaska.

Plano and Anchorage likely ranked at the top because the numbers of seniors in both cities grew significantly between 2009 and 2017: Plano's increased by 64 percent while Anchorage's grew by 49 percent.

"Alaska saw a spike in Baby Boomers moving up from the 'Lower 48' states in the 1970s and 1980s, which has created an aging population still residing in the state," said Collin Czarnecki, a researcher and content strategist with Digital Third Coast. "One of the reasons seniors in Anchorage may be working past 65 at higher rates than other communities is that [23 percent of] Alaskan seniors tend to live in single-person households … which may indicate a need to [earn] income beyond Social Security benefits and retirement savings."

[SHRM members-only Express Request: Ageism at Work]

Five of the 10 cities with the highest percentage of seniors in the workforce are in Texas. After Plano come Garland, Austin, Dallas and Irving at Nos. 5, 6, 8 and 10, respectively. 

Why Texas?

Several Texas cities routinely rank highest in the nation for overall job growth, Czarnecki said. For instance, Plano lies within the Dallas-Plano-Irving metropolitan division, which ranked second in the nation for year-over-year employment growth, according to Plano Economic Development.

"So, it's not altogether surprising that their senior communities are engaged in the workforce in strong numbers," Czarnecki said.

He also noted that the median housing cost in these Texas cities is above average for the range of cities considered in the study. "That could also explain why people are working longer," he said.

Other cities on the top 10 list were Durham, N.C., Minneapolis, and Nashville, Tenn.

Many Big Cities Rank Low

While D.C. was No. 2 on the list—with 24 percent of its seniors still working—many other major metropolitan areas were low on the list. New York City and Chicago didn't even make the top 50. Los Angeles came in at No. 20—with about 21 percent of its seniors still working.

"It's very possible that seniors who are interested in working are looking toward smaller communities to live and work in," Czarnecki said.

The analysis also examined cities that have experienced the most growth in the numbers of seniors in the workforce since 2009. Once again, Plano ranked high at No. 2, with a nearly 100 percent growth in its senior workforce during that period. That could be, again, because the city's total senior population has grown substantially since 2009. Ranking No. 1 was Durham, with 109 percent growth in seniors at work.

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