Political analyst Elliott Stonecipher has been warning for years that Louisiana faces a tremendous problem because of the loss of its best and brightest young people.
Stonecipher, who has studied Louisiana population trends for many years, was trying with a recent demographic analysis to demonstrate a difficulty in his hometown of Shreveport, but in the process he pointed to a growing statewide problem.
Stonecipher recently compared age and gender data from 1990 with data from 2010.
Two of Stonecipher’s observations about the U.S. Census data are salient — Louisiana has fewer women of child-bearing age than it did a generation ago, and people approaching their retirement years account for a larger share of the population than they did 20 years ago.
Louisiana’s population grew by an anemic 7.4 percent over the last 20 years — less than a third of the 24.1 percent growth rate for the nation as a whole.
Stonecipher noted that between 1990 and 2010, the number of women between age 20 and 44 dropped by 9.5 percent — from 836,403 to 757,303.
Those are women of child-bearing age. And, assuming no change in birth rates, that means that Louisiana can expect a drop in the number of births in the coming generation.
Long term, that means the number of native-born young people entering the labor market will likely decline in the coming years.
Also during the last 20 years, Stonecipher’s data show, the number of Louisiana adults age 50 and older — that is adults at or nearing retirement age — increased by more than 40 percent.
Read together, the data indicate that as baby boomers — those people born between 1946 and 1965 — retire and leave the workforce, the state will have fewer warm bodies coming behind to replace them.
Stonecipher said the data have implications throughout the economy, pointing to education and the availability of labor as two examples.
Stonecipher said a drop in the number of women of child-bearing age, coupled with the state’s traditional loss of young people to outmigration, point to fewer schoolchildren in the coming years.
And, longer term, the demand for labor will become more intense as boomers retire and fewer people join the labor force to replace them.
Stonecipher is not unique in that observation.
LSU sociology professor and demographics expert Troy Blanchard a few years ago projected that many more Louisiana residents will reach retirement age over the next two decades than will reach employment age.
As recently as June, the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution think tank also noted a large disparity between the portion of the national population reaching or nearing retirement and the portion of the population in the cohorts that will replace them in the labor force.
Looking at the last decade only, the Brookings report says the number of people under age 45 has grown by only 1.4 percent nationwide. At the same time, the number age 45 or older grew by 25.6 percent.
Brookings said in Louisiana the number of people under age 45 declined by 7 percent while the number age 45 and older grew by 18 percent — another indicator of the growing age disparity.
Brookings said areas with losses or slow growth in the youth population can expect reduced tax revenue and worker shortages.
While today’s demographic patterns point to difficulties for the Louisiana economy and for employers over the next couple of decades, today’s young people could find unprecedented opportunities.
Jobs may be tight today, but eventually the economy will improve and businesses will have to compete for highly qualified workers.
It could be a job seekers’ paradise for those who look ahead and prepare themselves.
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