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Millennials and baby boomers: A tale of two job recoveries

Matt Ferguson | June 5, 2014

Millennials and Baby Boomers

The economic recession was felt by the entire country, but was experienced very differently.

When the Great Recession began in 2007, it triggered changes that were felt in the three major economic markets: housing, stock and jobs. Few people doubted these unprecedented events would cause rippled effects throughout the American economy and beyond. Yet, in the years since the recovery began, some workers have found the job market more welcoming than others.

From 2007 to 2013, the number of jobs held by baby boomers (age 55-64) grew by 1.9 million or 9 percent. For millennials (age 22-34), job growth was virtually nonexistent at 0.3 percent or 110,000 jobs. These stark differences shows that these two generations of workers are experiencing drastically different job markets.

While millennials were just beginning their careers at the start of the recession, baby boomers were preparing to begin their retirement. In new analysis from CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists, Intl. (EMSI), the post-recession stories of the workforce’s youngest and eldest workers begins to take shape.

Two diverging paths
The recession prompted boomers and millennials to approach the labor market differently. Confronted by weaker entry-level job prospects, young professionals left the workforce in greater numbers or took lower paying jobs that didn’t take immediate advantage of their degrees. Meanwhile, older workers often had to postpone retirement to recoup lost savings.

Never in history have workers over the age of 55 had the concentration in the workforce they have today. Still, these workers are headed toward inevitable retirement and employers need to plan for vacancies, which could quickly create new skills gaps in trade vocations and STEM fields.

In a depressed labor market, we ideally want more people to acquire college degrees, but the rates of graduates did not spike during the recession. This suggests rising costs prohibited many people in need of new skills from obtaining them, a trend that needs to be reversed going forward.

Before and after
Since 2007, the population of Americans 55 and older has grown 20 percent, which is four times the growth of Americans 25-34. This already tilts the amount of available workers in baby boomers’ favor. Yet, no picture better shows the contrast between the two generations’ workforce reality than the growth and decline of their respective labor for participation rates. The labor force participation rate is the percentage of Americans who are either employed or looking for work.

During this same 2007-2013 period, the labor force participation rate of workers 55 and older increased by 1.7 percent, but workers 25-34 experienced a decrease of 2.1 percent, according to the BLS.*

Metros: Where are millennials and boomers?
In metropolitan areas with one million or more residents, boomers are most likely to be found in Pittsburgh, Hartford and Cleveland. These three metros all share one economic factor: strong manufacturing industries. (You can explore an interactive map of 175 metros and their 2007-2013 changes here.)

Millennials, however, are most drawn to the west, with Salt Lake City, Austin and San Diego being their most popular metros. These three markets signal the younger generation’s attraction to the rising computer, health care and finance occupations.

By rank, with Boomers on the left and Millennials on the right, broken down by metro and percentage shared.

1Pittsburgh, PA17.70%Salt Lake City, UT34.10%
2Hartford, CT17.20%Austin, TX31.40%
3Cleveland, OH17.20%San Diego, CA29.70%
4Philadelphia, PA16.30%San Antonio, TX29.50%
5Providence, RI16.20%Phoenix, AZ29.20%
6Portland, OR16.10%Seattle-Tacoma, WA29.20%
7Tampa, FL16.00%Oklahoma City, OK29.00%
8Rochester, NY16.00%New Orleans, LA28.90%
9Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY16.00%Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN28.80%
10Milwaukee, WI16.00%Washington, DC28.60%

Metros: Fastest job growth
Perhaps the only shared experience by both millennials and boomers is job growth in the same metros. Houston and Austin are the leading metros for growing job opportunities for all age groups.

By rank, with Boomers on the left and Millennials on the right, broken down by metro and percentage of growth.

1Houston, TX23%Austin, TX11%
2Austin, TX22%Houston, TX9%
3Salt Lake City, UT18%New Orleans, LA9%
4Dallas, TX18%Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY9%
5Denver, CO16%San Antonio, TX8%
6San Antonio, TX16%Dallas, TX7%
7San Jose, CA15%Pittsburgh, PA6%
8Indianapolis, IN15%Rochester, NY6%
9Pittsburgh, PA14%Oklahoma City, OK6%
10Nashville, TN14%Denver, CO5%

2007-2013: Growth by occupation
In the following categories between 2007 and 2013, baby boomers managed to increase their share of jobs more than millennials did, with few exceptions. In the competitive and growing STEM fields, boomers saw more success than their younger counterparts. For millennials, construction was the roughest industry to endure, with a 19 percent drop in employment.

By occupation groups, with Boomers on the left (first two columns) and Millennials on the right (last two columns), broken down by percentage of job change and 2013 share (change).

Food Preparation & Serving20%7% (+1)18%35% (+3)
Healthcare Practitioners & Technical22%17% (+2)11%27% (+1)
Computer & Mathematical20%11% (+1)2%32% (-1)
Business & Financial Operations11%17% (+2)-1%27% (-1)
Architecture & Engineering9%18% (+2)-10%27% (-1)
Legal4%18% (+2)-5%26% (0)
Construction & Extraction-3%12% (+2)-19%29% (-2)

*Current Population Survey, Annual Averages: 2007, 2013