The average U.S. construction worker is aged 42.6 years, and will not be eligible for full Social Security retirement benefits until age 67. Delayed retirement is largely driven by economic need, but construction workers face considerable challenges in remaining on the job. This study explores trade-specific age trends within the construction industry, and the experiences of building trade unions with aging membership. A mixed-methods approach used trade-specific age statistics from the Current Population Survey and key informant interviews with labor leaders, in order to identify union experiences and interventions. Mean and median ages for all subgroups in construction increased from 2003 to 2017. Immigrant construction workers were significantly younger than workers who were born in the U.S. (41 vs. 43, p < 0.001). Union workers were older than non-union workers (42 vs. 39 in 2017, p < 0.001); the age differential between self-employed and wage-and-salary workers was wide (49 vs. 40, p < 0.001). Union leaders described barriers, such as age discrimination and the loss of previously available light tasks, as well as current and potential solutions through union contract language requiring the inclusion of older workers, or establishing limits for lifting. Other solutions included career pathways for training and safety, with their attendant limitations; mentoring/pairing opportunities with apprentices; and the potential opportunities and training needs for site management positions.
Keywords: aging workforce; career pathways; construction workers; labor unions; older workers; sustainable workforce; union interventions; work accommodations.