Utah's Older Workers: What Do We Know About the State's Oldest Generation?

By Lecia Parks Langston, Senior Economist

“Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.” – David Mamet

We’ve just updated our “Older Workers” data visualization (Check it out here). So, now seems like a perfect time to examine the demographics of Utah’s oldest workers.

We’re number 50!

Thanks to our higher-than-average birth rate, Utah maintains the highest share of population under the age of 18 years in the nation (29%). Not surprisingly on the other end of the scale, Utah shows the smallest percentage of seniors by state (11%). While 65 may be the classic retirement age, many workers stay active in the labor force beyond this point. In fact, the recent trend in both Utah and the United States is for the older population to work longer (and make more money).

Working Longer

The labor force participation rate measures the share of a particular group that is in the labor force. The Current Population Survey (CPS) reveals that in 2002 only 15% of the population 65 years and older was a labor force participant. By 2019, with a few ups and downs in between, that rate had increased to 21%. That’s somewhat higher than the U.S. figure of 19%. Even during the pandemic recession, labor force participation held steady among older Utahns. The continued demise of defined retirement plans, delays in the full-benefit age for Social Security payments and improved healthcare has undoubtedly influenced this inclination.

The CPS discloses that not only are older Utah workers staying in the labor force, but working seniors are making up an increasing share of the labor force. Between 2002 and 2019, the number of senior workers increased from 30,000 to 77,000. That represents a gain of nearly 47,000 individuals and a growth rate of nearly 160%.

A Decades-long Trend

Since the first baby boomers turned 65 in 2011, they have accounted for a notable portion of that labor force growth. However, this increasing participation trend among older workers preceded that date by more than two decades. In general, U.S. older workers’ participation in the labor force steadily declined from 1948 (about 30%) until about the mid-1980s when it bottomed out at less than 11%. Obviously, the Social Security program provided the safety net to allow older workers to retire earlier. However, since the mid-1980s, older workers have stayed in the workforce at increasing rates. Older-worker participation rates surged in the late 1990s.

Now, one’s sixty-fifth birthday is not a job death knell for a significant portion of the population. Interestingly, as older workers have stayed in the labor market longer, teenagers have failed to join at the rates of previous years. (See our blog post: “Where Have All the Young Workers Gone?”).

Wide County Variations

The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) covering the 2015-2019 interval provides a more detailed look at the “older” labor force. Because of its youth-dominated labor force, older workers comprise only 4.1% of the Utah labor force compared to 5.5% nationally.

The American Community Survey also shows a wide variation among Utah’s counties. In Garfield and Piute counties (both with relatively older populations), older workers comprise 11% of the workforce. In contrast, in Utah and Tooele counties, older workers make up about 3% of the labor force.

The ACS also reveals vast differences in county-level participation rates for older workers. In Daggett and Summit counties, participation rates among older workers measure nearly 30%. In Kane, Beaver and Rich counties, older-worker participation rates register below 13%.

What else does the American Community Survey tell us about older Utahns?

Roughly 32% of Utahns 65 years and older have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, not significantly different from their younger peers in the 25 to 35 years and 45 to 65 years age categories. In Summit County, a whopping 56% of the 65-and-older age group have at least a Bachelor’s degree contrasted with only 13% in Emery County.

  • Only 3% of seniors have less than a ninth-grade education, a proportion it shares with other age groups older than 35 years old.
  • Householders 65 years and older show lower incomes than householders between the ages of 25 and 64.
  • Roughly one-third of Utah householders 65 years and over have incomes between $50,000 and $99,999.
  • Seniors showed a 6.4% poverty rate between 2015 and 2019, lower than Utah’s overall poverty rate of 9.8%. Older Utah women (7.8%) maintained a higher poverty rate than Utah men (4.8%).
  • Roughly 33% of Utahns 65 years and older report a disability compared to 10% of Utahns between the ages of 35 and 64.
  • Utah women, 65 years and older, are more likely to be widowed (28%) than are their male peers (10%). Approximately 61% of older Utahns are married.
  • Older Utahns are more likely to have served in the military than their younger counterparts. Veterans comprise 16% of the population 65 to 74 years and 22% of Utahns 75 years and older. 
  • Only 4% of Utahns 35 to 54 are military veterans.
  • Roughly 70% of Utahns 65 years and older have healthcare insurance coverage in addition to Medicare.
  • More than half of Utahns 65 years and older were born and live in Utah.