A recently released Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that even experienced workers are unlikely to work in the same position for more than five years.
The National Longitudal Survey reports that half of employees over 40 are out of a job in less than two years (or held the same position for more than a year), and 69 percent were out of a job in five years. The survey, started in 1979, tracks a cohort of 9,964 employees who were born in the years 1957 to 1964 and who are now between 45 and 53.
Comparing the surveys reveals even less job security and more job mobility starting in 1998: in 1979, 82.9 percent held a job for at least a year while in 1997 only 13.8 percent did. In 1979, most of those under 24 held a job for more than four years; in 1997 only 10.7 percent did.
According to the 1979 survey, education today offers little guarantee against job insecurity, even for the most experienced workers: the survey reports that those over 40 with a Bachelor’s degree or higher face the same job instability as they did when they were in their mid-thirties.
Workers over 40 are usually at their peak of job experience and employers normally would value these workers the most. In a healthy economy, therefore, such workers would be the ones with the highest job stability and lowest mobility. But the data show that a majority of these highly experienced workers must switch jobs, a significant majority of them lasting less than five years in any one position. This implies that employers are unable to pay for the premium of experience or education.
Workers over 40 should also be seeing an increase in pay, given their experience—this would be especially true for workers who are also highly educated. But earnings data reveals a wage decline. In comparison to their younger selves, those over 40 saw a decline in average wages, a result that holds even for those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher. In fact, earnings data show that members of the 1979 cohort saw the highest wage gains in their mid-20s, a finding that is also true of those with a Bachelor’s degree or higher, though those with more education saw smaller wage declines than those without.