Where Did 11,400 Workers Go?

From 1990 to 2009, our workforce (the number of people either employed or seeking employment) grew by 25%, peaking at 84,500 people. But something happened in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Our workforce began to decline and decline, such that today we have 11,4000 fewer workers than we did 14 years ago despite having roughly the same population we did then.

Note how labor force and employment grew with population until about 2010.

How did this happen?

It appears that population-level changes are driving this decline. In 2000, 15% of our population was 65 or older. Now, it’s 21%. And this trend will continue because of the flip-flop in our birth and death rates. As you can see in the chart below, our birth rates have declined from 1.6% in 1990 to 1.0% in 2021, while our death rates have increased from 1.0% to 1.7% during that time.

Why does this matter?

People won’t grow or build businesses in places where they don’t expect to be able to find employees. Today, 95% of those who are able and interested in working are already employed.

It also matters because people working, especially in the middle of their careers, make more money and spend more money than those over 65, which helps them, their families, and the local economy:

Income and Expenditures by Age

You may remember my comments in last week’s email:

“Why do Oliver Anthony’s lyrics resonate so deeply? Why do so many of us distrust the government?

…Then I remembered something a philanthropist who worked with families in countries all around the world once said, “All mothers essentially want the same thing - a better life for their children.” We all want our lives to be better than our parents and our kids’ lives to be better than ours. This is, after all, the American dream.

And it’s not happening. People born in the 1980s are about half as likely as people born in the 1940s to make more money than their parents.

I think it’s wonderful that people want to spend the last few decades of their lives in Shasta County. But we also need to have a large supply of people eager to work hard, build businesses, invest in our local economy, and ultimately, make more money than their parents. To do this, we need to create more opportunities for our high school and college students to find good jobs here in Shasta County.