40 Under 40 continues getting older

Today, I wrote a post on Facebook offering some insight into some interesting trends within the Erie Reader's "40 Under 40."

Let me just start by saying that I love the idea of the "40 Under 40" by the Erie Reader. There are fantastic people in...

Posted by Michael J Haas on Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Now, I would like to elaborate on some of the topics I did not address within the Facebook post, as well as discuss the issues within my own analysis. I will begin with a short briefing on my analysis, as well as observations.

A briefing:
2013) Average Age of Class: 31.5
2014) Average Age of Class: 32.1
2015) Average Age of Class: 33.4

As you can see, the average age for members of the "40 Under 40" has increased by roughly 1 year per year - an interesting rate.

I came to these numbers by placing the ages for all 40 members from each class into an excel spreadsheet. I then took the total average for all 40, by class, and then organized the list of ages for each class from highest to lowest. I separated each class into two sections, the older half becoming the top 50% and the younger half as the bottom 50%. I then averaged each of these top and bottom categories for each class, giving me a total of 6 numbers to work with, as well as a concept for how quickly each section of the classes are aging from year-to-year.

Coincidentally, the bottom 50% bracket of classmates has been aging faster than the top 50% bracket - most likely because of the 39 year cap.

Now judging from the graph in my Facebook post, this may not seem like a huge increase overall, but one must look not only at what the numbers are, but how they could be comprised. The showcase honors those "40 Under 40" with no cap on what is the lowest age considered (although, historically, the youngest member inducted was in 2013 at the age of 20).

This is my first point: if we are highlighting the best, then some account should be made for where these people are, in relation to their intended career. Just as we do not honor an 18 year old for entering college, we should not give an award to someone who is meeting the expectations of their age. This is not intended to be a slam against those who have been in the classes, but rather a disappointing reality that Erie, far too often, settles into the trap of mediocrity. We are better than that.

Thus, let us expand the range down into high school students and view the numbers in relation to that adjusted age range of 14-39. This gives us an ideal average of 26.5. However, even if we were to only consider those in Erie who are above the age of 18, the ideal average would then be increased to 28.5. Even this deviation from the norm would put the closest average (2013) 3 years older than what would be considered ideal, as previously defined.

Only 6 of the 2015 class of 40 are in their twenties. This is an over 50% decrease from 2014, when 15 of the 40 were in their twenties. This is not to say that being thirty or older should disqualify you. Rather, it is in the interest of both Erie and the Erie Reader for a more normal deviation to exist as this will raise the bar for both age brackets.

Now, clearly, my analysis is by no means perfect. For one, I did not take into account the increase/decrease in average age for Erie. Yet, even if Erie is getting older, that does not mean that the only options for growth exist in those who are over the age of 30. In fact, a greater emphasis must be placed on those who WILL be 30 in the next decade, before it is too late.

Another criticism of my analysis comes from Cory Vaillancourt who writes "However as someone who worked on this article in years past, I would say it has more to do with this simple theory: 'The Great Recession of 2008 devastated the retirement savings of many baby boomers, delaying their intended retirements by a few years and creating a bottleneck in the very finite supply of top-tier jobs around the country and here in Erie.' In short, there's not a huge deficiency of younger talent in Erie - they're just all still stuck in mid- or low-tier jobs, and not advancing through the ranks as quickly as they should be."

While I agree with Cory, I think that if this was simply a measure of top-tier jobs it would be different than the multifaceted approach that the Reader is taking. I would have hoped to see more young entrepreneurs and artists as well as those who are not yet making large-scale impacts, but are moving in that direction. Unfortunately, there is little incentive for graduates of local colleges to stay in Erie if we're not aggressively recruiting them - directly or indirectly. It seems to me that we're happy to accept the work of those waiting for top positions without encouraging them to stay in the region. I think the fact that the organization could only find 6 people in their 20s who fit the criteria speaks to the larger issue. Sure there are limited jobs... But how will we make sure that those same people will still be here when those baby boomers retire? I think a lot of organizations would be smart to move young professionals into apprentice-like leadership positions while maintaining the baby boomers in charge - reducing the inevitable learning curve that will hit hard when all these organizations are forced to transition.

Ultimately, this is not completely the fault of the Erie Reader. It would be easy to blame the organization for not looking hard enough for young talent who may not be in a "top-tier" position. Yet, putting such blame on an organization is short-sighted. This is not wholly the Erie Reader's problem - it is the problem of the City of Erie. In order to remain viable as a community, we need to look to those under 30 who are making a difference despite their limited career potentials.

If we want these young professionals to wait in Erie, we need to give them a reason to wait. We, as a community, cannot continue giving into mediocrity and telling people to wait their turn. We cannot keep obsessing over the paradigm that Erie is an "old" city. If we want to stay on the map, we need to look to the next decade, not the next year.

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