More than one-in-three American labor-force participants (35%) are Millennials, making them the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
As of 2017 – the most recent year for which data are available – 56 million Millennials (those ages 21 to 36 in 2017) were working or looking for work, Pew reported. That was more than the 53 million Generation Xers, who accounted for a third of the labor force.
And it was well ahead of the 41 million Baby Boomers, who represented a quarter of the total. Millennials surpassed Gen Xers in 2016.
Meanwhile, the oldest members of the post-Millennial generation (those born after 1996) are now of working age. Last year, 9 million post-Millennials (those who have reached working age, 16 to 20) were employed or looking for work, comprising 5% of the labor force.
These labor force estimates are based on the Current Population Survey, which is designed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and serves as the basis for its unemployment and labor force statistics.
Though still sizable, the Baby Boom generation’s sway in the workforce is waning. In the early and mid-1980s, Boomers made up a majority of the nation’s labor force. The youngest Boomer was 53 years old in 2017, while the oldest Boomers were older than 70. With more Boomers retiring every year and not much immigration to affect their numbers, the size of the Boomer workforce will continue to shrink.
Another Pew report from last month finds several distinctive ways that Millennials stand out when compared with the Silent Generation (today, in their 70s and 80s), a group of Americans old enough to be grandparents to many Millennials:
- Today’s young adults (Millennials ages 21 to 36 in 2017) are much better educated than the Silent Generation.
- A greater share of Millennial women have a bachelor’s degree than their male counterparts – a reversal from the Silent Generation.
- Young women today are much more likely to be working, compared with Silent Generation women during their young adult years.
- Millennials today are more than three times as likely to have never married as Silents were when they were young.
- Millennials are much more likely to be racial or ethnic minorities than were members of the Silent Generation.
- Young Silent men were more than 10 times more likely to be veterans than Millennial men are today.
- Greater shares of Millennials today live in metropolitan areas than Silents or Boomers did when they were young.
Meanwhile, some experts think that hiring the youngest Americans in the labor force would help extend the job market’s solid gains, with an unemployment rate at the lowest level since 2000.
Despite the robust performance, U.S. factories and service firms complain they can’t find the particular mix of skills for open jobs. In a survey of small-business owners for February, about a third reported openings they couldn’t fill, close to the highest since 2000, Bloomberg reported.
Of the 6.7 million unemployed people across the country in February, more than a quarter were 16 to 24 years old. That figure doesn’t even include those who became discouraged and stopped looking, or haven’t searched in the last month.
“If you look at business surveys, they say one of the biggest problems they have is finding qualified workers," said David Berson, chief economist of Nationwide Insurance, who has personal experience with being a job-seeking, liberal-arts graduate after double-majoring in history and economics at Williams College in the 1970s. “Matching up smart kids, but maybe with fewer technical skills, with businesses that need those skills makes a lot of sense."
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