Aging baby-boomers leave McLean County’s workforce in limbo

McLean County’s labor force has dropped by 4,500 people since 2010, according to the Economic Development Council in Bloomington (EDC).

Labor force participation dropped around 6 percent, from 68.1 percent to 62.4 percent. Labor force participation, simply stated, is the number of people ages 16 or older who are employed or currently searching for a job.

The decrease is not specific to any field in particular, according to Ken Springer, vice president of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Council.

“What we’re seeing right now is a broad-based labor decline,” Springer said. “It’s different from a skill shortage.”

The decline is a result of the huge demographic shift, with baby boomers retiring in droves, and also of long term unemployment left over from the last recession.

This trend is not limited to central Illinois alone; worldwide, labor forces are seeing a similar drop in participation as baby boomers leave the work force and retire.

A CNN article recently stated that by the year 2020, 13 countries will be “super-aged,” with more than 20 percent of the population over the age of 65.

By 2030, that number will rise to 34, and the U.S. will qualify as one of those “super-aged” nations.

Though this may cause a strain on the economy in the near future, the EDC is more focused on keeping McLean County’s economy strong in the present.

“Labor force participation is our key selling point to bring companies in to do business or start projects in McLean County,” Springer said.

One way he hopes that the labor force can stay strong is by encouraging local university students to stick around after graduation.

“We would really like to help graduates find a job locally,” Springer said.

“I like to ask students if they would stay here if we could line them up with a career after graduation. My guess is many of them would say yes. After all, the reason so many students move back home after college is that they aren’t sure where they will be able to find employment.”

Springer hopes that companies and local businesses will continue to take advantage of the talent that’s being cultivated at schools like Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan, encouraging young people to stay in the work force here in McLean County rather than leaving for a big city.

As companies continue to show interest in creating jobs in the area, students will feel drawn to stick around post-grad, Springer said.

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