Future of Teacher Labor Force Not Unique

We’ve heard a lot of warnings in recent years about the aging teacher workforce and the worrisome need to replace retirees. It’s a valid concern, but it’s a valid concern for just about every profession as the entire U.S. population becomes, on average, older than previous generations.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a timely projection of what the American labor force will look like in 2022. There’s no question it will be older, but the rate of increase is slowing. And when the overall population ages, it brings with it a mitigating factor for the makeup of the teacher ranks.

In 1992, the percentage of the U.S. workforce between the ages of 16-24 was 16.9%. In 2002 it was 15.4% and in 2012 it was 13.7%. The BLS expects it to fall to 11.3% by 2022.

By contrast, the percentage of workers aged 55 and older grew from 11.8% in 1992 to 20.9% in 2012. BLS expects that percentage to increase to 25.6% in 2022.

There is good news, though. BLS projects the number of workforce entrants will still exceed the number of “leavers.” Also, an aging population means relatively fewer children entering school, mitigating the need for teachers and other employees. Public education’s biggest workforce challenge may end up being competition from the health care and social work fields, whose service populations will be growing faster relative to K-12 teaching.