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Report explores impacts of pending boomer retirements on rural Utah labor markets

The members of the baby boom generation have dominated the United States labor market since the post-World War II era.

Economists and research analysts continue to debate the effect the pending retirement of the generation's experienced employees will exert on the nation.

But the Utah Department of Workforce Services indicates that the labor market departures will impact non-urban counties, expecially the rural utilities and education sectors .

At the national level, the approximately 76 million baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 started entering the American labor force in the 1970s, when the economic effects of the demographic began to surface.

Data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that baby boomers comprised 45 percent of the nation's labor market in 1978.

One longstanding debate focuses on the impacts the U.S. economy will face when the baby boomers retire between 2011 and 2029, pointed out research analyst Joe Bell and economist Jim Robson in the DWS' latest Trendlines report.

The shortage of experienced employees may place a burden on the remaining labor market and hamper economic growth nationwide.

At the state level, Utah's population has distinctive demographics compared to the U.S. due to a persistently higher fertility rate and significant net immigration, noted the DWS representatives.

High fertility rates generally lead to a bottom heavy age pyramid and Utah has the highest birth rate of any state in the U.S.

The U.S. Census Bureau's American community survey statistics show there were 55 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 50 years of age nationally in 2006. Utah's rate registered 51 percent higher with 83 births per 1,000 women.

As a result, the age structure of the state's labor force differs from the rest of the country, explained the Trendlines report.

In 2006, 40 percent of all workers in the nation were 45 to 64 years of age. In Utah, the figure registered significantly lower at 32 percent.

Comparing younger workers ages 16 to 44, the national proportion was 59 percent and Utah had 67 percent, noted the Trendlines report. Therefore, Utah's labor force will not experience as rapid a loss of experienced workers with baby boomers retiring as the nation as a whole, pointed out Bell and Robson

The labor shortage is projected to affect certain industries and higher-skilled occupations more than others, continued the Trendlines report.

Businesses should consider implementing plans to retain older workers and employed baby boomers to ensure the transfer of skills, experience and institutional knowledge.

The U.S. Congress passed legislation increasing the age at which retirees can qualify to receive full Social Security retirement benefits in 1983.

The intended effect of the federal legislation was to inspire workers to remain in the labor force longer, according to the DWS report.

With efforts in the public and private sectors, the negative effects of baby boomers leaving the workforce can be minimized.

The oldest baby boomers turned 60 last year. While the boomers' retirement may not have a significant overall effect in Utah, certain rural counties are vulnerable, explained DWS economist Lecia Langston

In the non-urban areas of Utah, several industries and counties are particularly vulnerable. The areas with high concentrations of baby boomers include Emery, Daggett, Kane, Millard, Piute and San Juan counties.

The utilities sector in non-urban Utah ranks number one on the vulnerable industry list, with 63 percent of workers between the ages of 44 and 64.

But only Carbon, Emery, Millard and Uintah counties have a significant number of utilities jobs.

Of greater significance is the age structure of the industry that educates students in non-urban Utah, noted Langston.

Roughly half of all teachers working in public and private education are 44 to 64 years old, in rural counties.

In 19 of Utah's rural counties, education shows the highest concentration of baby boomers. In five non-urban areas, education displays the second highest industrial concentration of boomers. In the remaining two counties, education shows the third highest concentration of boomers.

Without appropriate planning and funding, teacher shortages appear likely to become increasingly pronounced as boomers retire, concluded Langston.

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