JEROME — Frances Wayment keeps working.
And she’s got good reasons to do so. The 71-year-old needs the income. And working helps her forget about the pain. Wayment has been surpassing doctors’ expectations for more than three decades.
“I was diagnosed with lupus, and they told me that was going to put me in a wheelchair,” she said. “I didn’t like that idea, so I kept working.”
Wayment has been a full-time cook at the Jerome Senior Center since 2000, and says that typically after two hours, she doesn’t remember her pain. Her key to success: staying active and keeping her mind working.
Wayment isn’t alone among Jerome’s population of senior workers. In fact, 7 percent of all employees in Jerome County are older than 65.
Idaho’s population of people 65 and older is expected to climb rapidly by 2025, outpacing the national average, according to Idaho Department of Labor and Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates. The state’s rural counties, meanwhile, will need to rely more heavily on older workers in the coming years, analysts say.
The silver lining for employers looking to fill jobs: the percentage of Idaho’s seniors who are working is increasing.
“The labor force participation rate is expected to increase for those older cohorts,” Idaho Department of Labor Regional Economist Ethan Mansfield said. To meet work force demands in rural areas, “That trend will have to be exaggerated a little bit.”
Susan Fullen, 64, is in her first year of teaching business classes at Jerome High School. While teaching technology to freshman students wasn’t exactly her forte, Fullen has years of experience with the computer programs. She was a general manager at Idaho Power for 20 years before she took a marketing and customer service job in New Mexico and retired in 2010.
But when she began raising her teenage granddaughter, Fullen figured she could use the extra money from teaching — while still getting summers off. More schools now are looking for experienced professionals to teach in career and technical programs — and with a senior scholar $5/credit program at the University of Idaho, getting certification has been quite doable.
Fullen expects she’ll continue working well beyond her 65th birthday in August.
“I really like being engaged in a stimulating environment,” she said.
Between 2015 and 2025, the Idaho Department of Labor projects population growth of 214,067 in the state’s urban counties: Ada, Bannock Bonneville, Canyon, Kootenai, Nez Perce and Twin Falls.
The remaining rural counties, however, are set to gain only 40,384 people.
“That growth is very unequally distributed,” Mansfield said.
And so is the age distribution: while the fastest-growing age group in both rural and urban counties is 65 and older, rural counties will have far less growth in other age groups. The 65-and-older cohort is projected to increase 24 percent in rural counties, while the 15-to-24 cohort will shrink 1.1 percent. The 23-39 cohort will grow 8.4 percent in rural counties, versus 15.8 percent in urban counties.
The percentage of workers who are 65 and older in the Magic Valley ranges from 5.8 percent in Twin Falls County to 10.5 percent in Camas County. And some industries in the rural counties hire a large percentage of older workers.
Nearly 20 percent of Blaine County’s utilities workers, for example, are 65 and older. And seniors account for more than 10 percent among Jerome County employees in agriculture, utilities, transportation and warehousing, real estate and leasing, and arts and recreation.
Trucking company Farm Fresh Marketing in Jerome relies heavily on older workers to meet its employment needs.
“Most of my guys are probably 50 and older, and I like them older,” owner Herb Allen said.
In fact, an advertisement on the company’s website promotes job opportunities for retired individuals looking to make a little extra money. Changes in the industry over the past decade have made it easier for employees, said Allen, 82.
“If you’re 80 and older, I’ll put you to work,” he said.
With an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent in Jerome County, Allen said it’s been hard to fill jobs.
In Idaho, 64 percent of all working-age people are working. That’s a higher participation rate than the national average of 62.8 percent, said Sam Wolkenhauer, a Department of Labor regional economist and population forecaster.
Although only one in three Idahoans ages 65 to 69 — and fewer than one in 10 over the age of 80 — are working, Baby Boomers are still a significant contributor to the work force, he said.
“If the Baby Boomers do suddenly start to retire en masse … we’d lose tens of thousands of employees in the long run,” Wolkenhauer said.
Back in the early 2000s, Mansfield recalled, more seniors were retiring during the good economy. After the recession, that trend slowed.
“If the economy is too healthy, they could all retire,” he said.
In a post on the Idaho Department of Labor’s Idaho@work blog, Mansfield sums up what needs to happen for rural employers to get the work force they need: “Unless rural areas can attract younger workers and their families, this trend of increasing participation rates must continue.”
Why they work
So why are more people continuing to work past 65?
“It’s partly because of necessity because their retirement is not sufficient to provide them with the livelihood they’d like to have, “ Mansfield said.
Especially with medical expenses involved, said Suzanne McCampbell, director of the College of Southern Idaho’s Office on Aging.
“Just living expenses in general are pretty steep anymore,” she said.
But for some, their reasoning goes beyond financial necessity.
“I have worked my entire life,” said Linda Ekren, a Realtor with Canyon Trail Realty in Jerome. “… My mother said you need to work, and when you work, you work hard.”
Ekren, 74, originally retired in 2000 — but that lasted less than six months before she went back to school.
“My husband joked that if I didn’t get a job after I retired, he’d get one,” she said.
Selling real estate began as a way to pass the time, but following the death of her husband, Wallace, Ekren remembers getting a card from a friend with this advice: Whatever you do, don’t stop working.
“It does give you purpose to get up in the morning, makes you use your brain … and it’s part of my social (life),” Ekren said.
Most Realtors, like Ekren, are considered self-employed and therefore not included in the Idaho Department of Labor’s work force data. Idaho’s rural counties generally have a higher percentage of self-employed people.
Keith Lierman, another Realtor with Canyon Trail Realty, said he’s farmed and been a Realtor for more than 30 years.
“I want to keep working because I enjoy working,” said Lierman, 76. “The extra income always helped, too.”