Academic journal article Generations

Older Workers, Precarious Jobs, and Unemployment: Challenges and Policy Recommendations

Academic journal article Generations

Older Workers, Precarious Jobs, and Unemployment: Challenges and Policy Recommendations

Article excerpt

Even though the labor market in mid-2019 was strong and unemployment was at a fifty-year how, more than 1 million job seekers ages 55 and older were unemployed (AARP, 2019). An additional 1.1 million individuals older than age 55 have been categorized as "long-term discouraged workers"-they want to work, but have not sought employment in the past year and so are excluded from the federal unemployment statistics (Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis, 2018).

When older job seekers are able to find work, it often is temporary or part time, pays less than they had previously earned, and does not provide a full suite of benefits. The top-line unemployment rate for older workers-2.7 percent in March 2019 (AARP, 2019)-masks the harsh reality for many older job seekers who endure long stretches of unemployment, financial stress, and devastating physical and mental health crises (Van Horn, 2013).

Mark, a 59-year-old job seeker, reported: "The majority of colleagues my age in their late 50s or early 60s have been displaced from midto upper-management positions, many from large corporations. Few have found another fulltime job. Whatever work they have found is part time and at well under half of their previous salary. The CFO at my last employer, a major global bank, is a school bus driver. A close friend who was president of a global research company has given up looking after five years. As a group, we essentially consider ourselves to be unemployable" (Heldrich Center New Start Career Network, 2018).

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that by 2026, older workers will represent a quarter of the workforce, and will number 42.1 million (U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, 2017). While labor force participation rates for prime-age workers (ages 25 to 54) are predicted to remain at current levels, older workers are expected to remain in the labor market at higher rates, especially those who are older than age 65 (U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, 2017).

The Baby Boom Generation has been labeled "the least prepared in decades" for retirement (Gillers, Tergesen, and Scism, 2018) because the older workers in this cohort seldom have a pension or sufficient savings to supplement their Social Security benefits and to provide for a secure retirement (Ghilarducci, Papadopoulos, and Webb, 2017). Moreover, workers younger than age 65 often remain in jobs to retain healthcare benefits until they are eligible for Medicare.

According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of BLS and U.S. Census data, nearly 8 million older Americans are out of work or stuck in low-quality jobs that essentially preclude them from saving for retirement (Simon, 2018). This includes 2.1 million older workers who are jobless, are working part time because they cannot secure full-time jobs, or have stopped looking for work, as well as 5.8 million older workers (23 percent of full-time older workers) who toil in jobs with poor pay and no health benefits, which is up from 20 percent a decade earlier (Simon, 2018).

Despite their desire to work, many older individuals are unable find a job. As of March 2019, more than one in four job seekers ages 55 and older (28.4 percent) had been unemployed for more than six months, compared to one in five job seekers ages 54 and younger (21.1 percent) (AARP, 2019). The high rate of long-term unemployment among older job seekers has many causes. Some older job seekers have not mastered contemporary job search techniques, public workforce programs offer little assistance to them (Heidkamp, Mabe, and DeGraff, 2012), and employers often are reluctant to hire older workers (Johnson and Gosselin, 2018).

One innovative study of age discrimination, based on more than 40,000 job applications from young (ages 29 to 31), middle-age (ages 49 to 51), and older (ages 64 to 66) applicants found "strong overall evidence of age discrimination," with callback rates lower by roughly 18 percent for middle-age workers and 35 percent for older workers. …

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