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How a birthday boom sparked surge in older workers Add to ...

One of the mysteries in the labour market’s performance this year has been the surge of employment growth among older workers.

Few pockets of the population are doing better, at least in terms of job creation. Last month -- in a time when overall employment was pretty flat -- job growth among women aged 55 and over swelled by 16,000, Statistics Canada data from Friday show.

In the past year, this age group saw the country’s fastest rate of employment growth -- up 7.7 per cent for men aged 55 and over and 7.4 per cent for women. And in the past two years since the labour market peaked, employment is up 13.5 per cent for women in this age bracket and 10 per cent by men. It’s a huge contrast to youth, whose jobs picture remains 7.8 per cent below the October, 2008 peak.

A few theories have been floated on why. For one, many older workers have reduced their salary expectations since the recession’s end, and are now willing to work for less. So an employer can now get experience at a much lower cost. There may also be a growing willingness to take part-time, or contract work -- and those are the bulk of the jobs on offer these days.

But Philip Cross, Statscan’s chief economic analyst, has a different theory. He crunched the numbers for last month and came up with his own answer: birthdays.

Aging population is about half of it,” he says. In other words, of the 18,000 additional older workers with a job last month, 9,000 of them had a 55th birthday in that time, which pushed them into the older worker age category.

In other words, demographics of an aging population is the key reason for the big increase.

But not all. The other half of October’s increase stems from more older workers, particularly women, entering the labour force and getting a job, or getting their old one back, Mr. Cross says.

The other question is whether the 55-plus crowd are looking for work because they want to, or need to. More than half, or 55 per cent, of Canadians figure they’ll have to keep working after they retire, a Gandalf Group study showed last week. It found only a third plan to retire before age 65, and most will keep working due to economic reasons.

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