Roger B. Madsen is director of the Idaho Department of Labor and a former state senator from southwestern Ada County. Kim Toryanski is director of the Idaho Commission on Aging.
By Roger Madsen and Kim Toryanski
The foundation of Idaho's economy is its educated, skilled and dedicated work force, and the backbone of that work force is an increasing number of older workers—people who helped navigate our state through some of its most difficult economic times in the 1980s and steered us into the past decade, one of Idaho's most productive.
Baby boomers have played a major role in Idaho's economic evolution over the last half century. Their solid judgment, ingenuity and reservoir of experience are now providing Idaho businesses with the wherewithal to remain profitable as the economy changes yet again and slows considerably.
Our state is aging, just as the nation is. Since the 2000 census, the number of Idahoans 55 and older has increased over 27 percent. This group now accounts for more than 22 percent of our population.
They are not only an important consumer group but also what has been until recently an untapped resource for businesses throughout our state. That is the point of National Employ Older Workers Week from Sept. 21-27.
Idaho employers have clearly recognized the value older workers have as Idaho moved from the near depression of the mid-1980s to one of the strongest state economies in the nation. In 1991, 10 percent of Idaho workers were 55 or older. That had barely changed by 2000, when it had risen to only 11 percent. But today, over 16 percent of our state's labor force is 55 and older.
In the competition for qualified workers, employers are realizing that the experience and knowledge of an older person can be a tremendous asset. These mature Idahoans are eager to work—some because escalating health care costs, declining pension funds and the responsibilities of caring for either aging parents or grandchildren has put retirement out of their immediate reach.
But for many others, they are simply not ready to retire. They are in better health than their parents were at the same age, and they have the desire to continue to contribute to their community, state and nation. Employers rate older workers high on attention to detail, customer service, judgment, commitment to quality, attendance and punctuality.
Over 100,000 older men and women are actively involved in Idaho's economy, and thousands more add to our quality of life every day by generously volunteering their time and talent. They are eager to remain a vital part of Idaho, and the rest of us are benefiting greatly.