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Boomer vs. millennial: A tale of 2 job recoveries

Published: Thursday, July 17 2014 6:32 p.m. MDT

More Boomers than Millennials lined up for this job fair in May of 2012.

Paul Swansen, pswansen via flick

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.

Behavior

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."

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