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Benefiting from the Coming Age Wave

As Massachusetts leaders develop solutions to stimulate the state's sagging economy, 50-plus workers should be part of the mix. According to a new policy brief by the Boston College Center on Aging & Work and AARP, the future vitality of the commonwealth will likely depend on 50-plus workers, and it's down to state leadership to capitalize on the coming age wave.

An Increasingly Aging Society

Like much of the world, the United States is an increasingly aging society.

Some facts to consider about the next few years:

  • In Massachusetts, nearly 40 percent of the commonwealth's population will be 50 years or older by 2010.
  • Shortly thereafter, almost one in five workers will be at least 55.
  • The 50 percent increase in mature workers will coincide with the decrease in younger workers due to lower birthrates.

"State leaders must play an active role in developing policy and initiatives to capture the value of 50-plus workers," says Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, co-director of the Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. "Most of the attention paid to the aging of the workforce has focused on national trends. However, the thought leadership for economic and workforce development occurs at the state level."

Getting States Ready for an Aging Workforce

The policy brief, 21st Century Age Demographics: Opportunities for Visionary State Leadership, provides information to help state leaders nationwide examine the connection between aging and work, and how changes in the labor force participation of older adults will affect their states. The brief also outlines options for leaders to enhance their state's readiness for the aging of the workforce.

At the State House

In Massachusetts, as part of the Workforce Competitiveness Trust Fund, the state Legislature has already included a $1 million earmark for older worker retraining. But, as highlighted in the policy brief, state leaders can do more to advance public sector innovation and increase employment options for 50-plus workers, including:

  • Raising awareness,
  • Encouraging business leaders to respond,
  • Expanding resources,
  • Benchmarking progress, and
  • Positioning Massachusetts as a model employer.

In the Bay State

As the 12th oldest state in the nation, Massachusetts is at the leading edge of the coming age wave in the U.S. workforce. Employment sectors likely to be hardest hit by the aging workforce are those that encourage long service, have had relatively little hiring in recent years, and experienced major downsizing in the 1980s and 1990s.

Industry examples include sectors critical to the Massachusetts economy:

  • Health care
  • Defense and aerospace
  • Education
  • Government

States Must Lead the Way

"Connect the dots and the conclusion is clear—employers must focus on recruiting, training and retraining the 50-plus worker if they are to meet their workforce needs in the years to come, and the state must lead the way," says Deborah Banda, state director of AARP Massachusetts.

"After all," Banda continues, "the decisions 50-plus workers make about employment versus retirement could have significant financial implications for the state. Those who continue working may require fewer state benefits and resources, particularly if they have access to employer-sponsored programs and services. And, perhaps most importantly," she concludes, "if Massachusetts doesn't keep 50-plus workers on the job, we risk losing them to other states that may be ahead of the curve, not behind the time."

About The State Perspectives Institute at the Boston College Center on Aging & Work

The State Perspectives Institute at the Boston College Center on Aging & Work partners with state leaders across the country to examine the impact of the 21st century age demographics on economic and workforce development and to address 21st century workforce readiness. The Institute gathers and analyzes information about employment at state agencies, as well as workforce demographics in the states' primary industry sectors.

Other Resources

21st Century Age Demographics: Opportunities for Visionary State Leadership

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