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Our Future Workforce: Demographic Drivers

Our research at ncIMPACT suggests there are four primary drivers: demographics, disruptive technologies, new business models, and the rise of the individual.

The nature of work is changing rapidly and dramatically. How we prepare for the who, when, where, and how work is done will challenge our state’s leaders and the institutions that support our workforce. To fully understand what lies before us, we must first examine the scale of the drivers of change. Our research at ncIMPACT suggests there are four primary drivers: demographics, disruptive technologies, new business models, and the rise of the individual. This blog post focuses on the first of these, and highlights some important demographic changes in North Carolina.

North Carolina is growing. But according to demographic analysis by our friends at Carolina Demography, much of this growth follows a trend of clustering in the state’s existing population centers, and will continue to do so over the next two decades. As people increasingly reside in those areas, strong job growth tends to concentrate there, too.

Meanwhile, generational trends are creating a workforce that is both younger and older, as well as more diverse. In 2016, “Millennials” — the generation born from 1982 to 2000 — made up more than 30 percent of North Carolinians age 16 and older and almost 40 percent of those we would call “working age” (16 to 64).

At the same time, driven by financial needs and better health, Baby Boomers are working into their 70s (or longer). In general, as shown below, North Carolina’s labor force participation — those who are either working or looking for work — closely tracks that of the U.S. as a whole. Given that North Carolina is expected to have a higher percentage of people who are over 64 than the national average, we may also have more people over 64 in our workforce in the next two decades.

According to Census data, labor force participation rates for North Carolina’s men and women in 2016 (81.3 percent and 71.3 percent, respectively) were very similar to their values in 2006 (82.7 percent and 71.6 percent). These aggregate numbers fail to tell the story, however, of places in our state where young men without market skills are dropping out of the world of work.

Finally, North Carolina and its workforce will become more racially diverse. According to a 2015 report, changes will be driven primarily by Hispanic, Asian, and African American population gains. Hispanics were 1 percent of the state’s population in 1980, are 9 percent today, and will be 12 percent by 2030. The African American population has been stable at 22 percent from 1980 to 2014, but will rise slightly to 23 percent by 2030 and to 26 by 2060. Asians will account for about 4 percent of the Tar Heel state population in 2030, but are expected to have much higher numbers in a few urban areas. For example, Wake County has already seen a whopping 44 percent jump in its Asian population since 2010. Meanwhile, our white population share is dropping less quickly than other states because we remain a destination for students, high-technology workers, and retirees. In 1980, North Carolina’s population was 77 percent white. This number is down to 64 percent today, and is projected to be 57 percent in 2030.

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