En español | As many states started to ease their pandemic-related restrictions, hiring rapidly accelerated in March, according to new data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That could be promising news for older adults, because many roles they commonly fill were part of the bounce back.
The economy added 916,000 jobs in March, BLS data show. The overall unemployment rate last month was 6.0 percent, down slightly from 6.2 percent in February.
The March unemployment rate for workers age 55 and older was 4.5 percent, down from 5.3 percent one month earlier. While that is encouraging, the March jobless numbers do not account for the many older Americans who have either retired early or are no longer actively looking for work. According to research published by The New School Retirement Equity Lab in February, more than 2 million older adults have left the workforce during the pandemic.
But as access to COVID-19 vaccinations increases, and as many businesses slowly return to their pre-pandemic operations, the job opportunities for older adults who want to work could increase.
"As with the restrictions put in place with the shutting down of the economy in the early part of the pandemic, the reopening has similarly been uneven,” says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst and Washington bureau chief for Bankrate. “But the overall impact [now] is one of lifting the prospects of the economy, as Americans look to resume the activities previously taken for granted as they are vaccinated and restrictions are lifted or relaxed."
The BLS report for March reveals which industries are already showing signs of growth.
The nationwide push to get more students back to in-person learning has increased demand for both teachers and the support staff who help schools operate. According to the BLS, in March, locally funded schools hired 76,000 people, state-funded educational institutions such as colleges and universities hired 50,000 people, and private schools hired 64,000. That means 190,000 workers were hired in the education field last month.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 29 percent of teachers are age 50 or older. And other education-related fields, such as school bus drivers, are popular part-time jobs for older workers.
The appetite for dining out appears to be coming back quickly. As many cities and states started to ease their COVID-19-related restrictions on restaurants and bars, hiring accelerated. More than 176,000 people got new jobs in these fields last month, the BLS report says.
As cinemas in some places start offering limited-capacity screenings and some sports arenas begin welcoming back fans, hiring has picked up in these fields. More than 64,000 people found work with these businesses in March. Prior to the pandemic, these jobs had been popular with older workers because they offer flexible hours and social interaction with fans and film lovers.
"As the weather turned, construction added an impressive 110,000 jobs in March,” Hamrick says. That growth covers hiring in a wide range of fields, including 65,000 hires in specialty trade contracting, 27,000 hires in heavy and civil engineering construction, and 18,000 in building construction.
Prior to the pandemic, the BLS had identified construction and building inspectors as a popular field for older adults, who made up 39 percent of those working in the field.
In some cities, companies are starting to welcome employees back to the office after months of working remotely. That means they're also starting to hire support staff to keep the offices running. Administrative and support services added more than 37,000 jobs last month, while management and technical consulting services picked up 8,000 jobs. Overall, this sector added 66,000 jobs in March, the BLS says.
While there are still more than 8.4 million fewer jobs overall now than there were in February 2020, before the pandemic, economists are optimistic about how hiring trends look right now.
"It is remarkable to think how a year ago we were almost drowning in downbeat and discouraging news about the trajectories of the economy and pandemic,” Hamrick says. “Now, as confirmed by the latest employment report, we are uplifted by improving trends being seen broadly and the prospect of better news ahead."
Kenneth Terrell covers employment, age discrimination, work and jobs, careers and the federal government for AARP. He previously worked for the Education Writers Association and U.S. News & World Report, where he reported on government and politics, business, education, science and technology, and lifestyle news.
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