Are Baby Boomers Really Keeping Millennials From Finding Jobs?

As more put off retirement, the number of older workers grew 9 percent since 2007.

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AP/Jae C. Hong

The millennial generation is the largest in American history, and they’ve begun to enter the workforce. But more and more, these young workers are stuck in low-end, low-pay, and even part-time jobs for which they are overqualified—something that a recent NBER working paper has found could depress their future earnings for years. These days, there are simply not enough good jobs to go around.

One big reason for this is that many baby boomers, also hit hard by the economic crisis, are putting off retirement and staying in their jobs longer. The average retirement age is now 62—five years older than it was two decades ago. The end result is that the labor market overhang of boomers has essentially prevented millennials from finding the sort of good jobs that are so important at the start of their careers.  

A new analysis by the labor market data and research firm EMSI and CareerBuilder tracks how the job market has changed for these two cohorts—young workers 22-34, and pre-retirement workers aged 55 to 64—since the crisis, from 2007 to 2013.

The news is troubling. Even as their population numbers have swelled, the number of younger workers has remained stable since 2007, while the number of pre-retirement workers has grown 9 percent over the same time.

In part, this latter fact is a product of America’s changing demographics. There are more 55 to 64 year olds than there were seven years ago, so more of them are in the workforce. The population above 55 has grown 20 percent since 2007. But there are also more 22 to 34 year olds—a demographic category that grew at a slower but still substantial 5 percent—yet their numbers in the workforce have remained stable. Some of these may have had trouble finding work, while others may have returned to school in order to gain competitive skills and wait out a sluggish job market. Clearly, those trying to break in have lost out over the course of the Great Recession.

These two cohorts have also been slotted into different kinds of jobs, according to the EMSI analysis. At the less-skilled end of the spectrum, younger workers are more concentrated in restaurant and food prep work, while older workers are more concentrated in health care support positions.

When it comes to higher-paying, higher-skilled jobs, the situation appears even worse for younger workers. EMSI and CareerBuilder tracked the growth rates for positions in computer and math jobs for these two cohorts from 2007 to 2013. In part, the vast differences are a result of different baselines—millennials make up 32 percent of computer and math workers, while boomers make up 11 percent of these occupational categories. Yet the number of computer and math jobs increased just 2 percent for millennials over this period, compared to a whopping 20 percent for their boomer parents. This suggests that millennials may be increasingly blocked off from some of the very best and highest-paying knowledge economy jobs. 

This process has also been far from even across the country. The two maps below, screenshots of a fascinating interactive by EMSI and CareerBuilder, tracks the number of new jobs for baby boomers and millennials for the 175 largest metro areas since 2007. (Check out the full interactive at the bottom of this post).

Notice that the map is nearly entirely green for older workers—the ranks of working adults, 55 to 64, has grown in nearly every metro area. For millennials, job growth has been far more geographically concentrated. The number of young workers, aged 22 to 34, has grown in the Northeast corridor, Texas, parts of the Midwest like Minneapolis and Denver, and several metros along the West Coast. In Florida, Atlanta, much of the postindustrial Midwest, and parts of the Southwest and Southern California, the number of jobs held by these youngest members of the workforce has shrunk, perhaps because educated younger job-seekers are moving to larger and more economically vibrant metros.

In contrast, boomers make up the largest share of the workforce in older Rustbelt metros and retirement destinations, including Youngstown, Ohio; Eugene, Oregon; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Sarasota, Florida; and Portland, Maine. The growth rate for boomer jobs is the fastest, however, in many of the same metros where millennial positions are growing. These include Lafayette, Louisiana; Houston, Austin, and McAllen, Texas; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Kennewick, Washington; and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Check out the full rankings and maps in the interactive below:

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here