While the US has weathered the effects of inflation over the past two years, America’s elderly population has been particularly hard hit. Because most seniors are inactive and living on fixed incomes or retirement savings, the rapidly increasing cost of living has put a financial strain on older households.
Beyond inflation, however, seniors need more money than ever to live comfortably in retirement. The life expectancy of a 65-year-old in the US has increased by more than four years since 1970. And while older people live longer, seniors also have greater health problems than the rest of the population, which comes at a high cost. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimate that per capita health care spending for seniors is almost three times that for the working-age population.
Amid this financial pressure, more older Americans are at risk of economic insecurity. According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, about half of working households are at risk of not being able to maintain their standard of living in retirement.
While most seniors have retirement benefits to rely on through Social Security and employer pension plans, those benefits have changed over time to encourage people to work longer hours. Changes in Social Security, including raising the full retirement age, larger credits for deferring retirement and adjustments to benefit payment formulas, have resulted in more seniors continuing to work later in life. Private employers have moved away from defined benefit plans in favor of options like 401(k) accounts that are more dependent on employee contributions to their retirement accounts and encourage employees to keep working to contribute and save.
Given these circumstances, older Americans are staying in the workforce longer. The percentage of Americans 65 and older who are working full-time has more than doubled since the turn of the century. In 2000, only 4.2% of seniors worked full-time, compared to 8.6% of the elderly population in 2021. The proportion of employed seniors has increased despite the rapid growth in the senior population. Due to the aging of the baby boomer generation, there are nearly 23 million more seniors in the US today than there were in 2000, meaning millions more seniors are choosing to expand their careers later in life.
Working seniors have benefited from steadily increasing wages as they have become a larger part of the workforce. Adjusted for inflation, the median wage for a full-time senior has increased from $41,715 in 2000 to $55,000 in 2021. And within the last decade, the median wage for seniors has surpassed the median wage for the rest of the working-age population, whose wages have largely stagnated. Today, the typical full-time senior earns $3,000 more annually than the typical worker aged 16-64.
After accounting for the cost of living, the Northeastern states tend to offer higher wages for older workers, led by Massachusetts and Connecticut, where the median full-time worker earns more than $70,000 a year. Many of these top locations tend to have higher wages than other parts of the country in general, but the older population is also an important factor. In seven of the ten highest-paid states for seniors, the proportion of the population aged 65 and over exceeds the national proportion of 16.8%. And in all but one of the top 10 states, seniors make up a higher-than-average percentage of the total full-time workforce.
At the metro level, too, Northeast locations are well represented on the list of the highest-paying locations for working seniors. Each of the four highest-paying cities for working seniors is in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions of the United States. That includes the nation’s number one Metro Washington, DC, where the typical working senior earns an adjusted annual wage of $73,649.
The data used in this analysis comes from the US Census Bureau. To determine the highest-paying locations for working seniors, Smartest Dollar researchers calculated the cost-of-living-adjusted median annual wage for full-time working seniors. In the event of a tie, the location with the higher unadjusted median annual wage for full-time seniors was ranked higher. For the purposes of this analysis, seniors aged 65 and older were considered.
The analysis found that full-time employed seniors in Pennsylvania earn an adjusted median wage of $53,958 per year, compared to the national median wage for employed seniors of $55,000. Here is a summary of the data for Pennsylvania:
- Median annual salary for full-time seniors (adjusted): $53,958
- Median annual wage for full-time seniors (actual): $52,000
- Median annual salary for all full-time employees (adjusted): $57,071
- Percentage of full-time employees who are seniors: 4.9%
- Percentage of seniors in the population: 19.0%
For reference, here are the stats for the entire United States:
- Median annual salary for full-time seniors (adjusted): $55,000
- Median annual wage for full-time seniors (actual): $55,000
- Median annual salary for all full-time employees (adjusted): $52,000
- Percentage of full-time employees who are seniors: 4.5%
- Percentage of seniors in the population: 16.8%
For more information, detailed methodology and full results, see the original report on Smartest Dollar’s website: https://smartestdollar.com/research/best-paying-cities-for-working-seniors-2023