Older Workers in Northwest Oregon

Older Workers in Northwest Oregon

by Erik Knoder

February 1, 2018

The number of retirement-age workers in Northwest Oregon has been increasing for years, not just in raw numbers but also as a share of the total population. In 1992 the five counties in Northwest Oregon (Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook) had about 1,750 workers ages 65 and older. In 2017 this number was about 6,400.

Nationally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 40 percent of the population 55 or older were in the labor force in 2014, and that participation was expected to increase the fastest for those ages 65 and older. Most of the increase is due to the aging of the baby boom generation, along with increasing life expectancy and higher education levels.

Although the share of the workforce provided by workers ages 65 and older is not as large as the shares of younger workers and those in their prime working years, it has been growing steadily in Northwest Oregon. This contrasts with some declining numbers in the larger two groups. The number of these older workers has been growing at an average of 6 percent per year since 2010 in Northwest Oregon.

Benton County had the most older workers in 2017; hardly surprising since it has the largest population. It might be more surprising that Lincoln County was in a respectably close second place, given that it has roughly half the population of Benton County. Columbia County, which has a slightly larger overall population than Lincoln County, had far fewer retirement age workers. Part of this is due to Columbia County having a younger population, and part is probably due to the fact that most of Columbia County’s workforce commutes to work outside the county, and therefore would not be included in these data.

It is not possible to know precisely what share of each county’s older population is working from these data because some residents commute to work in other counties. But if we ignore the possibility of commuting for a moment, the number of older workers in each county divided by each county’s total older population was 7 percent in Columbia County, 11 percent in Tillamook, 12 percent in Lincoln, 15 percent in Benton, and 16 percent in Clatsop County in 2016. These percentages compare reasonably well with statewide numbers, which show that the number of workers ages 65 and older were about 16 percent of the population ages 65 and older. From separate data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates indicate that about 19 percent of the retirement-age population in the state is in the labor force (either employed or unemployed).

These numbers all indicate that a substantial and growing number of people of retirement age are continuing to work in Northwest Oregon. As healthcare improves and jobs become physically less demanding, people are able to work at older ages. The two pools of workers that are utilized the least are teenagers and retirement-age seniors. In a time of tight labor markets employers may make special efforts to recruit older workers, much as some employers currently do for teenagers.