May 22, 2019

Restaurants are tapping into a seasoned labor pool

With the economic expansion into its tenth year, businesses across many industries are finding it increasingly difficult to compete for employees in a tightening labor market. In addition to these challenges, the restaurant industry was also impacted by longer-term structural changes in the labor force in recent years. Most notably among these developments was the sharp and steady decline in the teenage labor pool.

To cope with a shallow labor pool, many restaurants are turning to more seasoned workers to fill positions. In fact, older adults were the fastest-growing age cohort of restaurant employees in recent years. The number of adults age 55 or older working in the restaurant industry jumped 70 percent between 2007 and 2018 – an increase of 400,000 people.

Although their overall numbers are still relatively small, older adults are becoming an increasingly important component of the restaurant workforce. Currently, there are nearly two teenage restaurant workers for every employee age 55 or older. In 2007, teenagers outnumbered the 55-plus cohort by three to one.

Looking ahead, older adults are expected to be the fastest-growing component of the U.S. labor force over the next several years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that an additional 5.3 million adults age 65 or older will enter the labor force between 2016 and 2026.

This trend will be driven both by population growth of this age group as well as an increase in their labor force participation rate. BLS predicts that approximately 22 percent of the 65-plus cohort will be in the labor force by 2026, up from the current level of 19.6 percent and the highest participation rate since the 1950s.

With older adults projected to make up a larger share of the U.S. labor force, it is likely that the composition of the restaurant industry workforce will also continue to evolve.

Read more analysis and commentary from the Association's chief economist.