Posted 3:11 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, 2020

Professor John Nunley, chair of the Economics Department, is researching how changes to the labor market are affecting older workers. He hopes his findings will inform policymakers and fill knowledge gaps in the economics community.

Study examines how changing landscape affects older workers

A new study led by a UW-La Crosse economics professor will examine how the changing labor landscape is affecting older workers.

John Nunley, chair of the Economics Department, recently received a $131,000 grant from the Social Security Administration and has begun work with his research partner and co-author, R. Alan Seals from Auburn University.

“The tasks performed by workers have changed dramatically over the last 50 years,” Nunley explains. “The demand for workers to complete repetitive tasks has fallen considerably, whereas the demand for the combination of social and analytical tasks has risen. It is important to study older workers because they will be a large share of the total labor market.”

According to Nunley, Baby Boomers are retiring later than previous generations due to insufficient savings — which will likely be exacerbated by COVID-19. By 2026, he says, one out of every four works in the United States will be over the age of 55.

Advancements in technology have caused many physically intensive jobs to be phased out of the labor market. But it’s unclear how the shift away from manual labor will affect older workers — who represent an outsized percentage of the workforce in management, community and social services, education, maintenance, office and administration, and the military.

“It is likely that the task content of these jobs has changed in different ways across these occupations,” Nunley notes. “We will document these changes and examine how they affect labor market outcomes — such as employment and earnings — for older workers.”

Nunley hopes the study will help inform policymakers and fill a knowledge gap in the economics community. He expects it to wrap up by mid-summer 2021.

The project is part of a series of grants received by the Center for Financial Security at UW-Madison.