Age and Employment in Southwestern Oregon

by Annette Shelton-Tiderman

November 14, 2018

Southwestern Oregon’s employment grew by nearly 19 percent from 1992 to 2017. However, looking at the overall employment change during these 25 years is akin to standing on a mountain peak, gazing across a deep valley to the next peak – and ignoring the journey in between the two!  A great deal happened to Coos, Curry, and Douglas county businesses and workers during those tumultuous 25 years!

The last quarter of a century has provided many economic challenges and shocks. Early 1990 was a period of recession, as was 2001. These low points were but precursors to the Great Recession, from December 2007 through June 2009. Like many other rural areas across the nation, southwestern Oregon’s economic plunge started early (2006) and stayed late (2012-2014, depending on the county). As the health of the business communities has fluctuated, so has that of the workforce. Taking a broad-brush stroke, 1992 to 2007 saw the region’s employment increase by 23 percent. Between 2007 and 2012, employment declined over 12 percent – the valley between economic peaks! The years since have seen an employment increase of 10 percent. The tides of the economy have flowed unevenly across the workforce.

The Dynamic Structure of the Workforce – Shrinking Presence of Younger Workers

In the early 1990s, youth ages 14 to 18 accounted for 3.5 percent of the region’s workforce; this increased to 4 percent by the mid-1990s and has declined steadily since then. By 2017, these workforce entrants made up less than 2 percent of the region’s workers. This represents a “footprint” shrinkage of 6.6 percent over the twenty-five year period. The only other age group to have experienced a greater drop in workforce presence is that of those ages 35-44, which now has 27.7 percent less representation in southwestern Oregon than in 1992.
Workers ages 45 and older have expanded their workforce footprint across the region. The middle-aged workers, 45 to 55, enlarged their share of the workforce by nearly 24 percent. Those 55 to 64 increased by 72 percent, and the seniors, whom many expected to be enjoying retirement, have increased their presence by 34 percent since 1992. The net effect has been an aging of the region’s workforce. Today, nearly half of the region’s workers are age 45 and older.
Presence in the Workforce and Population Shifts

Not only have the younger people experienced a diminishing presence in the workforce, they also have a smaller presence in the overall population of those ages 14 and older. Additionally, there appears to have also been a hollowing out of the middle age cohorts – those who should be positioned to assume increasing responsibility in business communities.

During the last 25 years, the makeup of the region’s population has also shifted. Since youth under the age of 14 are not part of this workforce analysis, we can define our overall focus or target population to be those age 14 and above. In 1992, youth 14 to 18 accounted for 8.6 percent (12,293) of the region’s overall target population (142,901). Peaking at 8.9 percent during the mid-to-late 1990s, those aged 14 to 18 currently account for 6.2 percent (10,342) of the target population. Those aged 19 to 21 shrank from 3.6 percent of the focus group in 1992 (5,166) to 2.9 percent in 2017 (4,866). Those in the young adult cohort (ages 22 to 24) have maintained their place in the target population (3.5%).

The so-called hollowing of the workforce’s mid-range cohorts is evident in those aged 25 to 34. This group, typically those establishing careers, has shifted from over 15 percent of the target population in 1992 to 12.6 percent in 2017 – an actual decline in numbers from 22,208 to 21,192. This decline accelerates among those aged 35 to 44 and those 45 to 54. Those 35 to 44 dropped from nearly 19 percent of the target population in 1992 (26,979) to under 12 percent, 25 years later (19,932). The older, more experienced workers aged 45-54 saw their presence decline from nearly 15 percent to 13.5 percent (21,106 people in 1992; 22,649 in 2017).

In stark contrast, the senior cohorts saw not only their piece of the target population increase but their numbers as well. Those aged 55 to 64, likely having the strongest skill sets, increased their target population footprint from 12.8 percent to 19.0 percent (18,244 people in 1992, 31,987 in 2017). Those eligible for retirement (aged 65 and older) grew from 22.2 percent of the target population to 30.4 percent (31,784 and 51,139, respectively).

These shifts in the overall target population (aged 14 and older) help explain the changes in workforce representation by the region’s various age groups. Understanding that an aging population means an aging workforce begs the question: “As the more mature workers age out of the workforce, who will be available to fill their shoes?”

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