‘Silver Tsunami’ of retirees leave workforce, but Garfield County’s unemployment rates continue to drop

Garfield County’s unemployment consistently trended downward in 2021, ending in November at about 4%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It’s a healthy unemployment rate,” said Carolyn Tucker, a Colorado Department of Labor and Employment spokesperson. “From our perspective, it’s healthier than pre-pandemic levels, which were about 2-3%.”

While data is not yet available for December, labor statistics indicate the 2021 average unemployment rate for Garfield County was about 5%, down from about 7% in 2020.

The CDLE Regional Business Services Manager for Western Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties, Tucker said a slightly higher unemployment rate can be better for employers, because more workers are seeking jobs.

Unemployment rates, she explained, are determined by dividing the total labor force by total number of unemployed workers claiming benefits. The numbers are a guidepost but can be skewed because they do not include people whose unemployment benefits expired or workers who voluntarily left the workforce for reasons such as child care.

“If there’s anything I’ve seen about the pandemic, it’s that it accentuated prior trends like challenges with affordable housing and child care,” Tucker said. “These problems existed before the pandemic, but they’re worse now, and we’ve seen a number of workers — mostly women — leave their careers to take care of their children.”

Unemployed workers leaving an area for jobs elsewhere can also lower the unemployment rate, she said.

As a tourism economy, Garfield County’s labor force typically fluctuates year-to-year and month-to-month, depending on the season. The county’s average labor force of about 33,000 in 2019 dropped to about 29,000 workers in 2020. But in 2021, the average through November rose back up to about 32,000.

“I’m not seeing a huge deficit of people moving away or out,” Tucker said. “However, we have an aging workforce, and a lot of people have decided to retire.”

During the Great Recession of 2008, older workers stayed in the workforce longer because of uncertainty in the stock markets. But during the pandemic, the stock market remained relatively healthy, and many retirement-aged people across the nation stowed their work boots for good, she said.

“We knew this retirement wave was going to come — this Silver Tsunami,” Tucker said, explaining labor prediction models forecast the shortage a decade ago. “Boomers are aging out of the workforce, but people are having fewer kids, and there are less people entering the workforce than are exiting.”

While the exodus of older workers creates opportunities for the remaining labor force, fewer people entering the workforce contributes significantly to the labor shortages facing many entry-level positions across Garfield County and the nation, Tucker said.

Regardless of the challenges that lay ahead, Tucker said she was optimistic about the future of employment throughout Garfield County.

“The trend over the last eight months has been pretty encouraging,” she said. “I see a lot of positive things going on for 2022. It will be rough, but from my perspective, the Garfield County business community has been tremendous at adapting to those changes.”

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at