Job growth is the elixir for generational strife in the office

This editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

You never know what your cubicle mate is thinking, but recent research identified a source of workplace friction more serious than Jim from accounting’s use of the office microwave to heat up leftover fish: Younger workers wonder why older workers are hanging onto their jobs for so long. Time for those older folks to retire already!

A recent poll by The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 4 in 10 respondents ages 18 to 49 consider the aging workforce to be a bad thing for American workers. Just 14 percent of those age 60 and older said the same. A survey by consulting firm Willis Towers Watson seemed to put its finger on the problem: 37 percent of employers worry that older workers will block the promotion pipeline for younger workers.

The potential for tension is real because members of the massive baby boomer generation continue to occupy workspaces while younger generations try to advance up the ladder. An aging population, high health care costs and financial setbacks from the Great Recession are likely contributing to a graying workforce, the AP reported. Nearly 20 percent of Americans over 65 were employed or actively looking for work last year, up from less than 12 percent two decades prior.

This is an issue with a sensible solution everyone in the workforce should want: continued robust economic expansion. When existing companies grow and innovation spurs the creation of new firms, employers will need to hire and promote.

To make this point another way, consider the inverse: Unemployment is now at a 50-year low. What would be the impact on hiring and advancement if the economy tanked? Job opportunities for young people would dry up. Older employees would anticipate death stares all around the office.

This would be a shame. Older workers provide wisdom and experience. Millennials bring urgency and a baked-in understanding of the digital world. We’re rooting for everyone to have as much opportunity as possible. That happens when the American economy is growing at a strong clip.


The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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