Older Jackson County residents aren't settling into their rocking chairs but instead are vying with younger workers for lower-paying jobs.
"Everyone around my age is still working because of insurance," said Marcia Raven, a 59-year-old Central Point woman who works at Rogue Creamery.
In Jackson County, the median age is 42 compared to 38 in Oregon.
— Source: Oregon Employment Department
The high cost of health care, a prolonged recession, high unemployment, faltering retirement accounts and a desire among retirees to remain productive have created a job market in which seniors are rubbing shoulders with younger workers in many local businesses.
Raven said her insurance plan at work and the need to help support her two grown children are some of the main reasons she has a job, though she says she likes her work because it keeps her mind active.
Her 30-year-old daughter is going back to college, and her 28-year-old son has graduated but is making less money now with two jobs than he did years ago as a bartender.
Working alongside employees less than half her age, Raven said she doesn't feel like she's taking a job away from younger people. "No, I'm working to help our kids," she said.
Raven, who had a former career owning five gift shops in Michigan, is anxious to see how Oregon's version of national health care reforms shakes out in October because she's hoping for a better system.
In Jackson County, older workers are trying to keep their jobs or search for another career, while younger workers are increasingly pushed out of the job market.
"This is probably a trend that has increased because of this unprecedented recession," said Ainoura Oussenbec, workforce analyst for the Oregon Employment Department.
Jackson County is more than 8,000 short on the number of jobs available before the recession, she said.
"Competition has been so fierce that, in some cases, more experienced workers have grabbed the job," Oussenbec said. "It has been extremely hard for younger, college-age people during the recession."
Jackson County has various issues that increase the number of older residents looking for work.
The average age in the county is 42 compared with the statewide average of 38. The county still has an unemployment rate of 9.8 percent, compared with 8 percent statewide and 7.4 percent nationally.
Some industries that historically have been an entry point for younger workers have evolved. Many supermarkets have customers fill their own bags rather than hire workers to perform that task, for example.
A stark statistic from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that 1 in 30 grocery store jobs were filled by 14- to 18-year-olds in 2012, compared with 1 in 8 in 1991.
Even worse, in the third quarter of 1991, 3,585 14-to 18-year-olds had jobs in the county. In the third quarter of 2012, just 1,353 had jobs.
In the 55-to-64 age group, 1,583 had jobs in 1991, compared to 4,691 in 2012.
The ability to get a job is dependent on the individual, Oussenbec said, though there have been anecdotal reports of differences between older and younger workers.
For many employers, older workers bring a good work ethic and provide reliability and solid customer service skills, Oussenbec said.
Some employers shy away from older workers because they fear they will demand a bigger salary, she said. They also think that older workers won't keep up with the computer skills and other technological demands of modern jobs.
Younger workers are seen as more technologically savvy and more willing to take on a wide range of jobs, she said.
Nikki Jones with Express Employment Professionals, which has filled 3,000 job assignments this year, said the demand for temporary workers has shot up.
"Our company, not just in Medford, has experienced exponential growth," she said.
While Jackson County may have a deficit of full-time jobs, the nation as a whole has 4 million positions available, Jones said.
At the beginning of the recession, workers in the 35-to-50 age group had a tough time finding anything other than an entry-level job. That trend is changing for the better, she said, particularly for workers who improve their skill set.
The long-term unemployed and those who lost professional jobs were the two hardest hit sectors, Jones said.
"People were willing to work for half their salary, but people were not willing to invest in them," she said.
It's also a difficult environment for professionals who haven't kept up on their skills.
Jones currently has an opening available for a social-media specialist, which requires expertise in YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and other popular applications.
Resumes have poured in from television reporters, photographers and other journalists. In many cases, they have the writing skills but don't have the chops in social media, she said.
Another factor now at play in the job market is that employers are demanding a solid educational background, according to Guy Tauer, regional economist with the Oregon Employment Department.
As a result, younger people are staying in school longer, trying to ride out the recession because they realize they will have difficulties finding a job, Tauer said.
Ron Fox, executive director of Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc., said there are other reasons older folks are just not ready to retire.
Fox said his current position with SOREDI is an "encore career," after retiring from PacifiCorp.
"For me, it's a passion," he said. "Retirement is oversold."
In talking to other older residents, he finds that some just enjoy the challenge of a job and the energy it brings to their lives. The alternative doesn't look great, Fox said.
"My wife said that if I retire she will give me a honey-do list that will go on for ages," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.