Prime Working-Age Population Growth Behind Pace of Overall Population Growth

Prime Working-Age Population Growth Behind Pace of Overall Population Growth

by Will Summers

July 25, 2016

An article from Governing Magazine caught my eye recently. The author, Mike Maciag, was writing about declining prime working-age populations (25 to 54 years old) in many areas across the country and the implications of the trend.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau's recently updated local population estimates for 2010 to 2015, Maciag wrote: "Losing a sizable number of residents in their prime working ages carries numerous implications. The smaller talent pool puts a strain on the workforce. Greater demand for some public services is likely where numbers of older residents are climbing. And, depending on tax structures, state and local revenues could further take a hit."

There are many possible reasons an area could have fewer prime working-age people, including the baby boomers aging out of their prime working years or people moving elsewhere to find jobs when the local economy is struggling to keep or create jobs. One interesting fact is that most of the counties losing their prime working-age population are increasing in other age cohorts and the county populations are staying steady or growing.

This holds true in Oregon. Benton, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties are not losing population overall, but gaining population in the 55 years and older age group. Not only are workers getting older and retiring, the counties are seeing significant in-migration of people, some 55 and older.

Comparing the prime working-age population with the population below the age of 25 and with those ages 55 and older, each county has seen growth in the population ages 55 and older, while the prime working-age cohort has seen a mix of small gains and losses across counties.

Polk County is an outlier in the growth of the population under the age of 25. Western Oregon University states on its website that their student population has grown 24 percent over the past 10 years. Polk County's population is small enough that the student increase could account for most if not all of the growth in the population younger than age 25. Benton County has a very large population below the age of 25, but it has not seen much change between 2010 and 2015.

The baby boom of the post-World War II era ended in 1965. People born in that year are turning 51 this year. Close to half of the boomers are above the age of 60 and are quickly approaching retirement age. This is one of the reasons the labor force participation rates are forecast to continue to drop for the foreseeable future.

With lower labor force participation rates and growth in the 55 years and older population, employers are going to have challenge finding the workforce they need to make their products and services as we move into the future.