ITHACA, N.Y. — Here are some labor-related statistics for your Labor Day weekend, beginning with conversation starter number one – if you want to live in this area for years to come, and be comfortably paid, your best hopes are going to be in education, healthcare and tech.

That’s one of the messages Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD), is conveying with its recent economic analysis for Ithaca and Tompkins County. The economic development agency prepared the report for the Tompkins County Legislature’s Planning, Development and Environmental Quality (PDEQ) Committee as a way to give elected officials a snapshot the county’s overall economic picture and future prospects.

Since the county’s deep recession ended in the 1990s, Tompkins County had enjoyed modest but steady growth in its job market. The market continues to add a little over 1% per year to its total employment figures, and local Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, a measure of broad economic activity, has been mildly positive. Concurrently, the labor force has decreased, which according to Martha Armstrong, Vice President and Director of Economic Development for Tompkins County Area Development (TCAD), is mostly a function of the aging workforce.

“It’s clear to me that the {Baby} Boomers are starting to retire,” said Armstrong. Baby Boomers are traditionally defined as individuals born from the mid-1940s to the early 1960s. In a trend seen nationwide, as that generation hits traditional retirement age, they are stepping back from the workforce to enjoy their golden years, and since they made up such a large contingent, the labor force decreases as a result. Armstrong noted that in comparison to other metropolitan areas, “Tompkins County has a somewhat larger presence of Boomers in its labor force.”

The point is made clear in the TCAD presentation. In 1990, about 20,700 people aged 30-44 were in the county’s labor force, as were 9,000 adults aged 50-64. By 2015, the number of those aged 30-44 had decreased to 16,500, while the number of those aged 50-64 had nearly doubled, to 17,300. In sum, the workforce has greyed considerably, and as those more mature workers retire, the labor force will likely continue to decrease until the influx of younger, less populous generations is finally large enough to cause the labor force shrinkage to level off.

Meanwhile, the county is expected to continue its moderate, consistent growth into the coming years. Over the next 15 years, the county can roughly estimate the creation of another 10,000 jobs. It’s important to keep in mind that is an estimate, and any number of local and national factors could create positive or negative impacts on employment growth.

It’s worth noting that the job growth continues even as the labor force levels off. This may take into account factors such as the growth in in-commuting, workers who live in neighboring counties and travel into Tompkins County for work. In 2000, there were 13,600 in-commuters, and 4,100 out-commuters (those who live in Tompkins County but work outside of it). By 2015, that number had increased to 15,200 in-commuters, and 4,200 out-commuters. Workers who live outside the metropolitan area (Tompkins County) are not included in the labor force statistic.

For those looking to make Tompkins County their long-term home, TCAD expects the best prospects to be much as they are now – educational services, healthcare and tech jobs (science, technology, engineering). Traditionally blue-collar categories, like utilities, transportation and warehousing, and manufacturing are likely to face a more difficult job market (perhaps due high relative costs of business, and the potential for the automation of work duties).

So here is the essential summary. One, the labor force will continue to shrink until most Baby Boomers have retired, and enough young people enter the workforce to balance out the loss. Two, it is likely that in-commuting will continue to grow, as people trade off longer commutes for lower housing prices and rural lifestyles. Three, meds, eds and tech jobs have the strongest outlook, thanks to a combination of replacement demand for those retiring, and new job growth. Hope this gives some discussion topics for your barbecues this weekend.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at