Working longer – in the sense of choosing to delay retirement beyond traditional retirement ages –
is widely proposed as the best way for older Americans to boost their fragile retirement security. But
the policy goal of increasing labor force participation among older Americans is fundamentally in
tension with a precarious low-wage economy because jobs that feature low wages, high turnover
rates, and few benefits do not provide a solid foundation for sustained employment at older ages.
Many Americans in their 50s are already out of the labor force, and many retire involuntarily before
traditional retirement ages – a situation that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Better jobs for prime-age workers help to pave the way for longer working lives. I outline three specific
policy proposals: improved minimum wage, fair workweek laws, and a universal paid family and medical leave benefit. As others have argued, these policies would improve the well-being of prime-age
workers. What has been less appreciated is that these policies would also put older Americans in a
better position to extend their working years.