Joseph Coleman, the former Tokyo bureau chief for Associated Press, is Professor of Practice in Journalism at the Indiana University Media School. He has reported from some two dozen countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas in 25 years as a journalist. Coleman is the author of Unfinished Work: The Struggle to Build an Aging American Workforce (Oxford University Press, 2015). He has degrees from Vassar College and Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. Coleman, 52, lives in Bloomington, Indiana, with his wife Kyoko and their two children.
The American workforce is aging rapidly. The percentage of those aged 55 or older in the workforce has surged by more than a third, from a low of 29.2 percent in 1993 to a peak of about 40 percent today. Demographics, the trend away from traditional pensions, the recession and concerns about public budgets all play a part. By now it's clear that the U.S. will have to create greater room for older workers in the labor market than ever before, even as these workers struggle to find jobs and employers struggle to find places for them. How can the U.S. craft policies that create incentives for older people to remain in the workforce, but at the same time expand the amount of work available to them? How can companies reorganize to accommodate the physical and psychological characteristics of aging workers, and to capitalize on the skills, experience and knowledge these older employees bring to the workplace? These are policy questions faced in the United States and in many parts of the industrialized world, including Japan and Europe. My research will focus on Japan as a global test case in elderly employment. Japan is the undisputed leader in societal aging, with nearly a quarter of its population now aged 65 or older. It is also a leader in employing older workers, with higher percentages of its 65-plus population working than any other leading industrialized nation. While many factors have contributed to this, I will focus on government and company steps aimed at boosting labor force participation among Japanese in their 60s and even 70s. What are the characteristics of these policies? Under what circumstances and in what configuration are they most effective? How are they unique? How can we apply the lessons of the Japanese case in the United States and elsewhere? To accomplish this, I propose three geographical areas of research: Japan, the United States, and Europe. Japan is where a confluence of policies, demographics and culture have achieved the highest levels of elderly labor force participation. Interviews with protagonists in government, academia and industry and aging workers themselves will deepen my past research in this area in preparation for more extensive writing. In the United States, I will conduct a comparable round of research to see whether similar policies and methods could be transplanted. My research thus far indicates that this is indeed the case. Selected countries in Europe would fill out the picture of the industrialized world, illustrating both the special difficulties of the European welfare state and current efforts to retain those aged 55 and older in the workforce. This project will build off my 20 years as a journalist, most recently as Tokyo bureau chief for the Associated Press in 2004-2008, and research conducted in Japan in 2010 under the Abe Fellowship for Journalists. The work will form the bedrock of a book. I am currently readying a proposal with an agent from Dystel & Goderich Literary Management for presentation to publishers this fall.