South Shore workforce looks thinner as baby boomers retire
QUINCY – Pipefitter Peter Hess of Quincy and his Nauset Construction Co. supervisor Scott Southwick were taking a break Friday outside the work fence around Quincy City Hall. Both were looking forward to having the Labor Day holiday off, but Hess said he’s also counting down his time to retirement, after decades of union work.
“I’m 57,” he said. “I’m retiring at 60.” Then he headed back inside.
Hess is one of a million baby boomers who’ll be leaving the eastern Massachusetts workforce over the next 15 to 20 years – with fewer younger workers to replace them.
Economic analysts at universities and the South Shore Chamber of Commerce say that could stall the region’s prospects for continued growth, and pit young job seekers even more intensely against those who have to keep working.
“If we don’t attract more younger people, it’s going to be a problem,” the chamber’s executive director, Peter Forman, said.
South Shore Building Trades Council President Robert Rizzi said that’s not just a future problem.
“People are already fighting for jobs,” he said. “They don’t want to work for lower wages. They’re forced to.”
A Metropolitan Area Planning Council study draws a stark picture. Just five years ago, in 2010, baby boomers in their 40s, 50s and 60s made up half the region’s workforce. By 2030, there will be barely enough Generation X’ers and millennials to replace them if more younger workers don’t move here.
Planning council researcher Tim Reardon said the squeeze could prove to be even more challenging for the South Shore because of a housing shortage and an expected decline in the size of the working-age population.
At the University of Massachusetts-Boston, economics professor Michael Carr said Boston itself doesn’t fit the overall workforce trends, since the city has one of the youngest, most highly educated workforces in the country. But he said it’s part of the landscape, since many millennials will have to leave the city because of its growing cost of living.
The South Shore has attracted those younger professionals for decades, and Forman said the area will need them even more in the years ahead.
A study the South Shore Chamber will release in early 2016 shows that the South Shore’s workforce is similarly well-educated – 42 percent of those 25 and older have at least a bachelor’s degree – and is also aging much like the national and regional workforces.
But Forman said the regional and nationwide baby boomer retirement wave is playing out in different ways here.
The South Shore’s traditional manufacturing base is long gone, replaced since the 1980s by financial services, health care and other fields. Now those industries are consolidating, as they are across the country, so Forman said the South Shore’s main economic challenge will be to cultivate “a wider group of employers” – smaller, new ventures and services.
“There are not necessarily fewer people to work in those fields, there are fewer jobs,” he said. “So it’s less about finding replacement jobs than finding replacement businesses.”
Amid those changes, Forman said the South Shore’s biggest employers aren’t so much discussing the impact the looming shortage of young workers will have on their own companies – but they are concerned about the overall impact on the area.
He said one of those concerns is how to make the South Shore a place where young professionals and families who live here will also work locally, rather than commute into Boston.
Reardon, who graduated from Hingham High, said more housing – rental units, condominiums and single-family homes – is key to attracting and keeping those workers here.
He said Quincy’s current construction boom is evidence of that aim. He said Braintree is “thinking seriously about it,” while the Hingham Shipyard’s mixed development is “a good model” for the area’s future.
And there’s a large cohort of millennials and Gen X’ers to attract. The South Shore Chamber study says more than 45,000 people moved from Boston to Norfolk and Plymouth counties from 2001 to 2011. A larger number left the South Shore, but that pattern has reversed in the last few years. Forman said that’s a promising source of younger workers.
Building trades leader Robert Rizzi has already seen some promising signs. He said trade unions are already seeing a fresh wave of workers in their 20s. This year the South Shore council got 300 applications for 50 apprentice positions, some of them from college graduates.
“That gets your attention,” he said.Workforce gets olders
80% of Greater Boston workers 60+ will work past 65 15% of workers 55-64 are now retired 17% of 55-64 were retired in 2005 49% of Greater Boston workers were baby boomers in 2010 30% of South Shore population is 45-64 Sources: Boston College Sloan Center on Aging & Work, South Shore Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.