Witnesses Include Vice Chairman of Federal Reserve, Comptroller General of GAO

WASHINGTON - Today Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Herb Kohl (D-WI) held a hearing at which two high-ranking Federal officials testified about the economic consequences of an aging workforce. Donald Kohn, Vice Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, testified that economic growth could decline significantly to 2.2 percent by 2015 as a direct result of the declining labor force participation of our aging society. This rate of growth is compared with an average of 3.2 percent experienced by the national economy over the past 40 years.

Comptroller General of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office David Walker also testified, including as part of his testimony GAO's report on the Comptroller General's Forum on Engaging and Retaining Older Workers, released publicly today. The report discusses key obstacles to engaging and retaining older worker, best practices and lessons learned, and suggested strategies.

"The retirement of the Baby Boom generation threatens to limit the potential of our economy, but demography is not destiny. Studies show that as older Americans live longer and healthier lives, many are planning to work longer," said Kohl. "We must encourage businesses to adopt policies now to attract and retain older workers as they are confronted with the coming labor force shortage."

In conjunction with today's hearing, Chairman Kohl introduced two bills that will give older Americans the opportunity to work longer if they so choose and offer incentives to businesses for employing older workers. The Older Worker Opportunity Act of 2007, co-sponsored by Senators Cochran (R-MS), Durbin (D-IL), Lincoln (D-AR), and Craig (R-ID), provides a tax credit for businesses that employ older workers (ages 62 and up) in a "flexible work program," which must provide a full- or part- time flexible work schedule and full pension and health care benefits. The credit equals 25 percent of an older worker's wages, and expires after 2010.

Chairman Kohl also introduced the Health Care and Training for Older Workers Act, co-sponsored by Senators Cochran (R-MS) and Durbin (D-IL), which extends COBRA health insurance from the time of retirement (ages 62 and up) until seniors become eligible for Medicare at age 65, as well as improves access for seniors to federally-funded job training programs. In addition, the bill would establish through the Department of Labor a clearinghouse of best practices in the private and public sectors for hiring and retaining older workers, as suggested by the GAO report. Both bills have received support from the National Council on Aging, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and the National Older Worker Career Center.

The hearing, entitled "The Aging Workforce: What Does it Mean for Businesses and the Economy?," also featured Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Director of the Center on Aging & Work/Workplace Flexibility, to address ways in which businesses can implement flexibility in the workplace in order to prevent a brain drain as seniors retire; Javon Bea, President and CEO of Mercy Health System, a Wisconsin-based company currently ranked the #1 employer for older workers by AARP; and Preston Pulliams, District President of Portland Community College, to discuss supporting older learners who want to remain in the workforce.

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