Baby boomers will need to play a crit­ical role in filling a poten­tially sig­nif­i­cant labor shortage later this decade after the economy recovers from its down­turn, according to new research by North­eastern University.

Barry Blue­stone, dean of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and founding director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, says that within the next eight years there could be at least five mil­lion job vacan­cies in the United States — and not enough people to fill them.

Based on gov­ern­ment pro­jec­tions of how much each worker will con­tribute to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product in 2018, he says the labor shortage could cost the economy $3 tril­lion over the five-​​year period from 2018 to 2022.

Blue­stone makes his case in a report, “After the Recovery: Help Needed — The Coming Labor Shortage and How People in Encore Careers Can Help Solve It,” which is being released today by the MetLife Foun­da­tion and Civic Ven­tures. The latter orga­ni­za­tion is a think tank focused on the role of baby boomers as a vital work­force that can advance social change.

If the baby boom gen­er­a­tion retires from the labor force at the same rate and age as cur­rent older workers, the baby bust gen­er­a­tion that fol­lows will likely be too small to fill many of the pro­jected new jobs,” Blue­stone states in his report.

To avoid future labor short­ages, Blue­stone asserts that engaging workers over 55 in encore careers will be imper­a­tive. Blue­stone points to a 2008 MetLife Foundation/​Civic Ven­tures Encore Career Survey that found most people expect to work longer than pre­vious gen­er­a­tions, but that half of those aged 44 to 70 want encore careers that com­bine per­sonal meaning, con­tinued income and social impact.

Not only will there be jobs for these expe­ri­enced workers to fill,” Blue­stone writes, “but the nation will absolutely need older workers to step up and take them.”

Bluestone’s paper was coau­thored by Mark Melnik, the deputy director for research at the Boston Rede­vel­op­ment Authority (BRA). It is based on pop­u­la­tion esti­mates by the U.S. Census Bureau and employ­ment fore­casts from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics and the Labor Market Assess­ment Tool devel­oped by Northeastern’s Dukakis Center and the BRA.

MetLife Foun­da­tion and Civic Ven­tures released Bluestone’s find­ings along with three others papers from inde­pen­dent experts, who also agree baby boomers will play sig­nif­i­cant roles in the future labor market and in meeting social needs.