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The Job Boom...for Baby Boomers

The jobs market is showing signs of life - but these positive prospects are being enjoyed by maybe the last group you would expect: baby boomers.

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics – or BLS -  released its January jobs report. Good news: the US economy gained 243,000 jobs last month. More good news: January 2011 to January 2012, the job market created a total of 2.3 million new jobs, not counting the ones that are seasonal, like retail jobs at Christmas.  The new jobs pushed the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate down to 8.3 percent, from 8.5 in December – it’s the lowest unemployment rate in three years.

But these new jobs weren’t distributed evenly.

By my calculations, nearly 69% of the new jobs went to …. baby-boomers.

Of course, baby boomers are 55 years old and up; you would expect them to be on the cusp of retirement, not re-entering the labor force in large numbers.

So what’s going on here?

Here’s one theory: the baby boomer job boom (if you will) might be the result of demand for more experienced workers in white-collar jobs. Management and professional positions, for example, grew by over 1.28 million jobs in 2011 – that accounted, in fact, for about half of all the new job growth over the past year.   

Could that be it? Could baby boomers, with their long years of experience, be snapping up the white-collar jobs?

We ran that theory by Jim Barbely, an economist with the BLS,  who said it sounded plausible. “Younger ages haven’t had time to achieve that level [of experience],” noted Barbely.

But, he conceded, this needs more study.

Peering into the future, this might have dragging effect on the job market for everyone else, particularly Generation Xers, who are just a few years behind the Boomers.  If retirement-age individuals opt for a another year, two or three of work – not only will there be fewer ladders to ascend within a company, but the overall availability of new jobs will go down and, consequently, the improving employment scene will be less robust.   

“This is definitely an interesting little trend we’re seeing,” Barbely said.  “We would have expected the 34-55 age group to be seeing the most gains,” he added.   

Of course, Gen Xers just have to see patience as a virtue. Eventually, the older generation will have to retire.

Right?

Background

Here’s how I got the numbers: The BLS says that there were 29.72 million jobs held by people 55 and over in January 2012. I compared that with the January 2011 number, which was 28.106 million. The difference between them is 1.62 million – which is how many more baby boomers became employed over the year.

Then I looked at the total job growth over that same year. In January 2012, there were 139.94 million employed Americans, compared to 137.59 million in January 2011. The difference between them – 2.354 million – is the number of new jobs added to the economy.

From there, we just divided the number of new boomer jobs into the number of total new jobs. The result? A whopping 69%  - that’s how many of the new jobs in the American economy over the past year were snapped up by boomers.

Additionally, in January 2012, the BLS classified 53.152 million workers as being in management and professional positions.

About the author

Karl Baker joined Marketplace in January of 2012. Before coming to New York, he worked as a commercial fisherman, an English teacher, and a part-time reporter for KBCS radio. He's also currently a student in business and economic reporting at NYU.

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