Retiring Baby Boomers, declining birth rates spur ‘Help Wanted’ signs in Wisconsin

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This piece was produced for the NEW News Lab, a local news collaboration in Northeast Wisconsin. This story first appeared in the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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Long before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the economy, experts warned of two demographic storms on the horizon that would present major challenges for Wisconsin employers.

The retirement of Baby Boomers along with declining birth rates are the main factor behind so many “Help Wanted” signs, even with the pandemic still holding back some who lost their jobs from returning to the workforce.

According to the Pew Research Center, 76 million Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, while only 62 million Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996.

The pandemic sped up the decision to retire for many Boomers. As Boomers continue to retire, there simply are not enough people in the younger generations to take their place in the workforce.

“If you look at the Baby Boomer population compared to the Millennial population, the numbers simply do not support the size of the workforce we had even 10 years ago,” said Matt Valiquette, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board.

In 2020, there were 3.6 million babies born in the United States, down 4% from 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That’s the fewest babies born in the country since 1979.

The national birth rate — measured as the number of babies per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 — was 55.8 in 2020. 

“With the current birth rate, if you look at forecasts and say, ‘Okay where are we going to be 10 years from now?’ we are, in all likelihood, if nothing else changes, going to be in a far more desperate situation in terms of a workforce shortage than we are today,” Valiquette said.

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