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The Next Crisis—Labor Shortages?

Monday, 22 Mar 2010 | 10:27 AM ET

Sorry, boomers, it’s not your fault.

Much blame has been placed on the boomer generation for staying in their jobs too long because of the economy and denying the rest of us the promotions that are rightly ours!

[pounding fist on desk]

But now, it seems that may just be some misguided recession aggression—and we owe boomers a pretty big apology.

A new study shows there may actually be labor shortages by 2018.

“If the baby boom generation retires from the labor force at the same rate and age as current older workers, the baby bust generation that follows will likely be too small to fill many of the projected new jobs,” Barry Bluestone, a professor at Northeastern University and co-author of the report, said.

"There's an enormous aging of the workforce, with a very small increase in the 'prime age' workforce," which is 18 to 54 or 64, Bluestone said. "That's a tiny group because it's all part of the baby bust generation."

The report, "After the Recovery: Help Needed," is based on projections for population growth according to U.S. Census data, as well as forecasts for job growth and workforce participation from the Labor Department.

Looming Worker Shortage?
A new study shows why retiring baby boomers could result in a massive worker shortage, with James Sherk, Heritage Foundation and Christian Dorsey, Economic Policy Institute.

Historically, after an economy recovers from a recession, there are labor shortages. This happened after World War II and in the early 1960s. And, while this recession is considered the worst since the Great Depression, a similar pattern is expected to emerge in the next 10 years, say Bluestone and co-author Mark Melnik, deputy director for research at the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

They add that it may be two to three years before spot shortages are seen,

Further, Bluestone says they were conservative in their growth projections: 1 percent a year, as opposed to growth of 2 percent or more in previous recoveries.

The findings suggest that 14.6 million new nonfarm jobs will be added to payrolls between 2008 and 2018 and that 5 million jobs could be unfilled by the end of that period.

Such a loss of output would cost the economy as much as $3 trillion over five years, the study suggests.

Now, I know what you're thinking: But aren't boomers staying in the workforce longer so they make up the gaping hole in their retirement savings?

Yes, and the study suggests that even that may not be enough to stave off a labor shortage.

So, the study takes it a step further, indicating that the potential for shortages means that encouraging workers 55 and older to engage in "encore careers" in places where there will be the biggest shortages "will be vital to meeting workforce shortages and critical social needs."

The study lists 15 jobs that will provide the largest number of "encore career" opportunities. Not surprisingly, many of them are in health care:

  • Primary, secondary and special education teachers
  • Registered nurses
  • Home health aides
  • Personal and home care aides
  • Nursing aides, orderlies and attendants
  • Medical assistants
  • Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurse
  • Business operations specialists
  • General and operations managers
  • Child care workers
  • Teacher assistants
  • Receptionists and information clerks
  • Medical and health service managers
  • Clergy
  • Social and human service assistants

"Many of these jobs will go begging unless older workers move into them and make them their encore careers," Bluestone writes in the report.

So, dear boomers, please accept our sincerest apology. But please, if you must keep working after 55, consider being a priest or information clerk. Godspeed. The restrooms are on your left and the exit is to the right.

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  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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