Employing Older Americans in Lane County

by Henry Fields

October 9, 2017

The last full week of September is designated by the Department of Labor as National Employ Older Americans Week. Supported by nationwide partners like the Easter Seals, this year events took place across the state to increase awareness of challenges and opportunities for workers age 55 and older.

I learned a bit quite about older workers in Oregon during the week of activities, and so I wanted to dig a bit deeper into the economic data on what industries employ older workers locally.

In general, older workers make up an increasingly large percentage of the workforce nationally and locally. In Lane County, 13.3 percent of all workers were at least 55 years old in 2001, a share that increased to 24.7 percent by 2016. The percentage of workers 65 and older increased at an even faster rate, nearly tripling during that time.

There are many reasons for this increase, but one major cause is the aging of the population. Countywide, the median age was 39.3, compared with a median age of 37.6 in the United States as a whole. That range can run much higher in specific areas: for example, in Florence, which is renowned as a retirement community, the median age within the city is 60 years old (although it’s worth noting that if someone is retired, they aren’t counted as a worker in any industry).  

Where older Lane County residents are employed and hired varies greatly by industry sector. The graph shows in blue the percentage of each industry’s workforce in 2016 who were age 55 and up. Older workers are most prevalent in transportation and warehousing, and least prevalent in accommodation and food services, with a difference of almost 25 percent of the workforce between them.
The red bars add another dimension to the analysis by looking at only the percentage of new hires to the industry that were 55 and older. While the rate of hiring older workers usually correlates with their overall percentage of the workforce, there are some exceptions. Arts, entertainment, and recreation; and management of companies and enterprises hire fewer older workers relative to their percentage of the workforce: Information and transportation and warehousing hire relatively more. It’s difficult to say if these differences are caused by greater opportunities for older workers in these industries or some other factor, such as a skill set that is better represented in older generations.

Even industries that do not currently employ a high percentage of older Americans still bring many opportunities for those 55 and older. For example, when you add together retail trade and accommodation and food services, two sectors with some of the youngest workforce demographics, they employ more total workers age 55 and older than any other single industry.

With unemployment rates at or near record lows, now is a good time for Americans of any age to be looking for and getting a job. Across the board, all industries are increasingly turning to older employees to meet their workforce needs.

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