Number of Long-Term Unemployed Older Workers Quintupled. the Help Hasn't

By McKenna, Claire | The Christian Science Monitor, April 23, 2012 | Go to article overview

Number of Long-Term Unemployed Older Workers Quintupled. the Help Hasn't


McKenna, Claire, The Christian Science Monitor


Older jobless workers have a higher rate of long-term unemployment than any other group. And employer policies end up discriminating against them. Yet workers age 50 and up comprise nearly a third of the US workforce. Policymakers must help this key demographic find good jobs.

March's disappointing employment report reminds us that a strong jobs recovery is still far from reach. There are still 12.7 million Americans looking for a job, and certain groups are having an exceptionally tough time when they go job hunting. The numbers tell a grim story: Not all jobless Americans are treated alike - especially older workers, people age 50 or above.

On one hand, older Americans fare relatively well in the labor market. Last year, they had the lowest average monthly unemployment rate of any age group (6.7 percent). But that rate is more than double their rate in 2007 (3.1 percent). And once older workers lose a job, they are more likely than younger workers to remain unemployed - which is where the hardship really sets in.

During the recession and its aftermath, the number of long-term unemployed older workers more than quintupled, the greatest percentage increase out of all age groups, from 325,000 to 1.8 million.

In 2011, more than half of older jobless workers were out of work for at least six months. And 4 in 10 older jobless workers were jobless for a year or more, a percentage no other age group comes close to. In March, workers age 55 and older had an average duration of unemployment of about 57 weeks.

Prospects are dim for older workers who lose their jobs. With commitments like family or a mortgage, less geographic mobility, and often less capacity to switch career tracks, it's much more immediately precarious to lose a job when you're older than when you're younger.

Retirement prospects and later-life well-being can take a big hit. A national survey of workers who lost their jobs during the recession found that a majority age 55 and older experienced a decline in savings while unemployed. Closer to a traditional retirement age, they then have less time than younger workers to replace lost savings.

Limited job prospects make delaying retirement a difficult option, and make forced early retirement more likely.

The job market has changed, too. Older unemployed workers are more likely to have been laid off from industries experiencing structural shifts, like manufacturing. And even just the idea of submitting a resume by email may be unfamiliar to some. That means older workers may need extra training and resources to land their next job in growth industries.

If and when they do find new work, the wages often aren't what they used to be. Research suggests older workers are more likely than younger workers to earn less than they did in their previous job, and that older workers who become reemployed may be moving into low-skill, low-pay jobs traditionally filled by youth.

Compounding these obstacles, evidence shows that employers are explicitly excluding the unemployed from hiring consideration. Because this kind of discrimination is more likely to affect those who have been out of work for the longest amount of time, older workers are the most likely victims. …

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