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Boomer vs. millennial: A tale of 2 job recoveries

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After the recession, Kate Holmes started noticing something unexpected.

Over the years as a certified financial planner in Las Vegas, Holmes had seen her peers — recent college grads — enter the industry.

But now, that wasn't happening. The reason was simple.

Boomers had stopped retiring.

It's a phenomenon that's happening across the workforce. According to new research, baby boomers, or workers ages 55-64, are not stepping out of the way or retiring like they used to, leaving millennials, ages 25 to 34, with fewer job opportunities.

The number of jobs held by baby boomers increased from 2007 to 2013 by 9 percent — that's 1.9 million more boomers holding jobs than there were before the recession, according to a recent report by Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI), a labor market data company.

Millennials, however, have seen a miniscule increase of 110,000 jobs in that same time period, a growth of .3 percent. Joshua Wright, a senior editor with EMSI, calls this the "great job stagnation." "It is essentially the same number," he says.

That could be tied to behavior — some say work experience, work ethic or simply being willing to take lower-paying jobs may be one reason boomers buffetted by the recession hold more jobs in this economy than millennials. And it may also come down to demographics.

Knowing these trends, however, might help millennials change their job hunting and education tactics, experts say.


The recession hit millennials harder than boomers. Jobs for boomers held steady, according to EMSI, while the number of millennials in the workforce dropped 4.4 percent.

EMSI's analysis of its own proprietary data and also other publicly available statistics found that jobs for boomers pretty much held steady (a 0.3 percent decline) during the heart of the recession from 2008 to 2009. Millennials' jobs declined 4.4 percent.

But that doesn't mean the boomers had it easy. "The financial crisis saw retirement go out the door," Wright says. "Boomers had to keep working to make up for savings losses. Also, some boomers enjoy working longer. So the average retirement age keeps going up and up."

Wright says the weaker job prospects — particularly entry-level jobs — made millennials decide to put off jumping into the workforce. Boomers, on the other hand, leveraged their experience to keep and get jobs.

And that could be one reason workers over the age of 55 have the highest concentration in the workforce in history.

Jenn DeWall, a Milwaukee-based life and leadership coach who works with companies that hire millenials, thinks the rising generation is hurt by student loan debt as soon as they enter the workforce. Millennials are also weaker than boomers in "soft skills," she said, things like managing other workers, task management and public speaking.

"No judgment implied, but boomers and millennials have different generational values," DeWall says. "The boomers' core value being 'live to work' and the millennials wanting complete balance and almost a blend of work and fun in the office. If you compare the values, it may be easier to see why boomers are more willing to take a job and compromise some of the non-negotiables that millennials have such as fun and free time."

Millennial Kate Holmes, who lives in Las Vegas, says some of the difference in attitude is that millennials have a more "entrepreneurial mindset" that makes them less likely to give up what they want in life and work balance. "We have that mentality," she says. "Boomers have to have jobs, concede more and don't expect more. They have kids in college. Millennials say, 'I'll take another pass,' rather than take a job they don't like."

Booming boomers

While work ethic, or what's expected from an employer, may partly explain why boomers hold more jobs than millennials, there may also be something even more simple afoot. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the population of people 55 and older grew 20 percent since 2007 because boomers are aging into that group. That is four times the growth of the 25-to-34-year-old millennials group. So when you add to this that the 55 and older group is also the only age group, according to EMSI, that increased its participation rate in the labor force since 2007 (up 1.7 percent), that increased participation plus more people in that group can account for much of the overall increase of boomer participation in the job market.

The type of job, however, does affect the ratio of boomer to millennial job growth. Except for food preparation and serving jobs, boomers have increased their share of jobs in all major job categories — including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs. Millennials had especially hard times finding entry-level jobs in architecture (19 percent drop) and engineering occupations (10 percent drop).

Wright says health care, which has been a driver of job growth, has been a good field for both groups. An anaylsis by U.S. News & World Report found that 21 of the 30 fastest-growing jobs are in health-related fields — a growth coming from more participation in health care because of the Affordable Care Act, and also because of the increasing needs of the aging boomers themselves. The Brookings Institution found that from 2003 to 2013, health care jobs increased 22.7 percent while all other industries, in that same time, increased only 2.1 percent.

Different areas of the country also affected how well boomers and millennials did. Some areas just have more of one age group than another. In metro areas with more than 1 million people, Pittsburgh, Hartford, Connecticut, and Cleveland have the largest share of workers 55 to 64. Wright says this has to do with them being older, traditionally industrial cities with higher concentrations of manufacturing industries.

On the other hand, Salt Lake City leads all other areas in the country for the share of jobs held by millennial workers — primarily because of the larger younger population and, Wrght says, its "burgeoning tech sector."

Finding a way

Holmes, and other millennials, found their own way to deal with the competition with boomers for jobs in her field of financial planning. She took that entrepreneurial tendency she says millennials have and started her own financial planning business, Belmore Financial in Seattle, before moving to Las Vegas. "I wanted to be location independent," she says. "I can work from anywhere in the world. Even my local clients want to meet by phone and Skype."

Wright says knowing which areas where jobs are growing and seeing hiring trends can help millennials compete. "When people are armed with information, they make better career decisions."

Email: mdegroote@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @degroote