This is how a baby boom ends. Not with a bust, but with a lot of old workers.
For the first time ever, workers over-55 are set to make up a bigger share of the workforce than workers between 25 and 34 years old. The chart below (via Conor Sen) shows the share of younger workers (blue) versus older workers (red) since 1950.
It might not be long until over-55s outnumber the 25 to 34 crowd.
With the Great Recession forcing so many Boomers to postpone retirement, their numbers probably won't plateau anytime soon. In other words, more Boomers will hit their 55th birthdays, but fewer Boomers will trade in for a gold watch when they hit their 65th birthdays. This could go on until 2020 or so -- when the youngest Boomers will start approaching their golden years.
Here's a depressing thought. It might take that long for a self-sustaining recovery to take hold. Eventually Millennials will have to start buying houses and cars -- right? By then they should have the jobs to do so. But for now, the younger generation is mostly unemployed, underemployed, or back in school. That's why their share of the workforce actually slipped when the Great Recession hit.
In the long run, the economy will heal itself. In the long run, Millennials will get good jobs. In the long run, younger folks won't be all that different from older folks. They'll start families. Probably buy a house. But the long run is, well, a long way off. It'd be nice if we did something in the short run to help us get to that long run a bit quicker. Maybe even -- and I'm just spitballing here -- create some jobs at a time of mass unemployment.
A lost half decade is bad enough. Let's not repeat it.
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Matthew O'Brien is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic.