One of the greatest generational shifts of all time is happening right now, in the Tri-Cities. Baby Boomers are those born between about 1946 - 1964, although the exact dates are debatable. These Baby Boomers have ruled the business world for decades, but they don't seem to be silently fading into retirement.
Here in the Tri-Cities, the oldest of the Baby Boomers have joined the ranks of the Silent Generation in the 70 year-old and older group. They celebrated their 70th birthdays this year, and 15 more of them are stepping over that threshold every day in this area. There's no short-term letup either, because there are about 116,000 Baby Boomers living here, and it will take 20 more years for the youngest to reach 70. In simpler terms, if they had a city all to themselves, its population would be larger than Johnson City and Kingsport combined.
Although they are getting older, they are not going silently into their 70s. Their "golden years" will be retirement – or maybe just semi-retirement – on steroids. These people have no interest in settling down and being forgotten about, like the generation before them. They have controlled business, politics, and culture for decades, and they will continue to be involved for years to come. Baby Boomers are getting older, but they will continue to be actively involved in the local community and economy.
Census Bureau reports show 53% of the working age population in the Tri-Cities is in the labor force, 10% less than the U.S. labor participation rate. A low participation rate is a result of an aging population. It's an economy killer, unless there's an equal increase in productivity from younger workers. But there's more to that story. Many Baby Boomers lost their jobs in the recession, and have been unable to rejoin the workforce because of their outdated skill set or unwillingness to change. Others signed up for early Social Security benefits are now in a semi-retirement state. Many now have part-time or contract jobs or work in the gig economy - off the books - so they're not counted.
The reason the aging trend is so important because it is a dramatic change in supply and demand. Look at it this way. People are demand. Without them, there's no need for businesses to supply products and services.
Generations are just moving markets. They're moving because the people age and as they age what they consume changes. While the consumption of the younger group is all about child care, school supplies, clothing, soft drinks, fast food and entertainment, the 65-year-olds are consuming health care, pharmaceuticals, and retirement. And the 70-year-olds are consuming one-story housing, even more health care, assisted living, and finally, end-of-life services.
Baby Boomers have been on top of the socioeconomic ladder for decades. Now, they are changing the way they consume services. As these residents get older, they work less, and collect more Social Security benefits. This creates a strain on an economy with a high average age, like the Tri-Cities. Baby Boomers continue to be involved in the local economy, even in retirement.
As residents of the Tri-Cities, we must recognize that this influential generation is getting older, but will not be forgotten. As the transition of wealth and influence shifts to Generation X, these Boomers will not be silent. The future of this area relies on attracting new, young residents, as we covered in the last post. But as the Tri-Cities grow, we cannot forget about the Baby Boomers who will continue to work and live in the Tri-Cities. This is why this generation won't be silent. They will continue to play a vital role in the local economy and in the community.