Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Montana: State Economist on Challenge of Aging Workforce

Barbara Wagner, an economist with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, predicts that the the aging workforce is going to be affecting Montana’s labor markets in the next few years--much sooner than other places in the country. Writing in the Big Sky Business Journal, she suggests that now is the time to plan for changes an aging workforce will bring by developing flexible worker training and adopting new workplace practices.

Montana has a median age of 39.3 compared to the national average of 36.8--the 8th oldest population in the country. In addition, the traditional working age population aged 16 to 65 is expected to start declining in Montana starting in 2012, while the U.S. population aged 16 to 65 is not expected to decline before 2030. In fact, already over 19.3% of Montana’s workers are over the age of 55 and approaching retirement.

According to Wagner, overall demographics are also going to affect job demands. Thus, an aging population will put stress on the health care sector, dramatically increasing employment needs, while a decreasing youth population could lead to a decline in educational employment. However, she notes that increased training needs could be a counter-vailing influence.

Among other things, she offers two solutions: (1) reduce the need for more workers while still growing our economy by increasing worker productivity, and (2) increase the number of workers either from in-migration of workers from other states, or by increasing labor force participation from its current level. While some of these changes will occur naturally, more will be needed in increased training programs and economic infrastructure to meet employment needs.

Source: Big Sky Business Journal "Montanans Getting Older" (January 6, 2010)

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