A silver tsunami is about to hit Montana!
At least that’s according to the glibly dubbed University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research (UM BBER) Update series. The traveling band of university economists and Montana Chamber of Commerce employees rolled into Bozeman recently for the annual economic update.
The silver tsunami refers to Montana’s rapidly aging population, director of the bureau, Patrick Barkey, said. According to the bureau’s recent data, Montana is the oldest state in the west by median age. The median age in the Treasure State is 39.8. Neighboring Idaho and North Dakota have median ages of 35. The bureau’s research showed that Montana is home to more 66-year-olds than 18-year-olds.
The aging and retiring work force are worrisome, to economists and employers alike. With a 3% unemployment rate across the state and less than 2% unemployment in Bozeman, employers are struggling to fill positions, even more so when much of the workforce barrels toward retirement.
“It’s good for those looking for work,” Barkey said. “Bad for those looking to hire. It’s a hot economy.”
Though Barkey joked that he merely points out problems and leaves, he did offer a few solutions. Creating more childcare options for families would enable parents to re-enter the workforce. Getting more teens and senior citizens to work would also help.
Childcare has been a topic of concern at every networking, economic, business, or social event across the state in recent months. in large part because of the shortage of options.
Earlier this year, the Montana Department of Labor & Industry released a report that found Gallatin County can care for only 33% of its children ages 5 years and younger. The average cost of childcare for two young children is 21% of the median family income. For reference, the financial rule of thumb stipulates that a family spend no more than 30% of its income on housing each month. In Bozeman, with a median single-family home price topping $425,000, homebuyers are stretched beyond the 30% threshold. Add in the hefty childcare costs on top of expensive home prices and Bozeman parents are stretched thin.
Despite the labor shortage, the outlook for Montana’s other key industries looks rosy.
“I’m rarely accused of giving people good news,” Barkey said. “But this is good news.”
That good news includes tech-related businesses and construction remaining healthy, especially in western Montana. The $867 billion Farm Bill is helping buoy Montana farmers with subsidies, legalized hemp growing, and a rejection of stricter rules for food stamp recipients. Real estate agents and financial institutions are poised to record another great year thanks to hot housing markets.
Barkey did point out that tariffs could pose challenges for Montana businesses and farmers in the future.
“I’m an economist,” Barkey said. “I point out problems and leave.”
Though he couldn’t offer solutions to every economic conundrum, Barkey said he and the bureau will continue to bring Montanans regular updates to keep them informed. From there, it’s up to consumers, business owners and everyone in between, to solve Montana’s economic puzzles.