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Blue-Collar Employees With Arthritis Working Past 65: Study

MONDAY, July 25 (HealthDay News) -- Although many Americans continue to work beyond retirement age, blue-collar workers are more likely to remain on the job after they turn 65 than white-collar employees, a new study has found.

The researchers also found that lower-income workers are at greater risk for developing chronic and painful conditions, particularly arthritis, later in life. As a result, the study authors suggested, their quality of life and work productivity could suffer.

"Arthritis serves as a powerful lens for looking at these convergent phenomena," study author Dr. Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, of the department of epidemiology and public health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said in a university news release. "We found that blue-collar workers with arthritis are in much worse health than are all other workers, suggesting that they are struggling to stay in the workforce despite their health condition."

In conducting the study, published in the July 21 online edition of the American Journal of Public Health, researchers compared age- and job-related information on 17,967 workers with and without arthritis. They found that at all ages, the health of blue-collar workers was worse than white-collar workers.

By the age of 65, 19 percent of white-collar workers with arthritis are still working, compared to 22 percent of blue-collar workers. The study also revealed that blue-collar workers can expect about 11 more years of health and white-collar workers can look forward to roughly 14 more years of health.

Service workers and farm workers are the blue-collar employees most likely to be among the 49 million adults in the United States with arthritis, the study showed.

Although 21 million adults with arthritis suffer some form of disability from the condition, the researchers pointed out service and farming jobs are unlikely to come with pension plans. That may be one reason why researchers found that 58 percent of service workers and 67 percent of farm workers remain on the job despite struggling with the painful disease.

Overall, about 15 percent of all workers remain in the workforce past retirement age and 44 percent of them have arthritis, the investigators found.

Breaking it down, the authors found that 16 percent of all blue-collar workers are older than 65 years of age. Of those working beyond retirement age, 47 percent report they have arthritis. Meanwhile, 14 percent of white-collar employees work beyond the age of 65 years, and 51 percent of these workers have arthritis.

"The increasing age of the U.S. workforce presents new challenges for government, employers and working families," study senior author Dr. Peter Muennig, an associate professor of health policy and management, noted in the news release. "It is estimated that by the year 2030, approximately 67 million adults aged 18 years and older will have arthritis."

The study authors concluded that the older workforce will be comprised of more blue-collar workers suffering from arthritis and facing a shorter life expectancy than wealthier Americans. As a result, the researchers suggested, federal programs should reflect this disparity with better disability, health and unemployment insurance to maintain a higher quality of life for all workers, particularly those with chronic conditions such as arthritis.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides additional statistics on arthritis.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, news release, July 21, 2011

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