Wages grow with age, but there is a point of diminishing return where retirement may be a better alternative to continuing to work with scant hope for increasingly higher pay. In Idaho for example, cost of living adjustments yielded greater increases for retirees than state workers experienced on their paychecks during the Great Recession.
This depends on the industry, however. There are a number with older leadership and workforce such as utilities, education and agriculture. The mid-life years of 45 to 54 are the peak wage-earning time.
South central Idaho provides a substantially higher wage for its teenage workers at almost $1,200 monthly compared with Idaho’s other five regions, where the average for workers ages 14 to 18 is 37 percent lower. The higher wage is likely due to agriculture, which puts farm kids and their friends to work through the summer growing season and into harvest. It also impacts a number of lower skilled jobs from parts runner to construction helper to irrigator and samples collector for a food processor or a researcher developing a better seed.
Older Worker Wages
Working beyond traditional retirement age yields substantially lower returns. The average wage drops 32 percent for those over 64, although those workers earn the highest average wage in eastern Idaho, which was slightly higher than south central Idaho. Both regions have pockets of well-educated workers who may be in the area consulting, working as an entrepreneur or in a professional services role as a sole proprietor working from home.
Blaine County in south central Idaho has the state’s highest median income and a high median age due to the high cost of living in the Sun Valley area. Many jobs pay a premium to attract workers from bedroom communities, who cannot afford the county’s extreme housing costs. Many second homes become retirement homes for their affluent owners. Forty percent of the workforces for agriculture, utilities, mining and information are 55 and older in Blaine County.
Nearly 40 percent of the agriculture sector workers in Twin Falls County are also over 55 years old, a reflection of the lifestyle agriculture offers along with a career. About a third of the workers in the education and transportation sectors are over 55. With summers off, educators frequently stay engaged for longer periods or move from the classroom to administration. Truck driving is another occupation that becomes a lifestyle choice. Some couples choose to drive as a team over a traditional home life.
The Idaho National Laboratory draws highly educated scientists and engineers, and some end up retiring in Idaho Falls and the surrounding area. The quality of place attracts people who want to experience some of the best fly fishing in the nation and be relatively close to the west entrance of Yellowstone National Park.
Older workers have many attractive characteristics. They are engaged, reliable and have a strong work ethic. In contrast, younger workers are more innovative and technologically adept. But training can help older workers bridge some of the technology gaps, providing employees who put their employer first.
Jan.Roeser@labor.idaho.gov, regional economist
(208) 735-2500 ext. 3639