The older you are the harder it’s going to be for you to find a new job if you lose the one you’ve got. That’s one of the big messages in the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative’s latest update to its report on long-term unemployment.
In December 2010, 30.2% of all jobless workers who were actively looking for work had been unemployed for at least a year. But for workers in the 55-64 age bracket, the long-term unemployment rate was 10.1% higher. And for those 65 and older, 13.7% higher.
In fact, the long-term unemployment rate increased with every age bracket. Even people in what are generally considered prime career years (35-54) had a long-term unemployment rate higher than the overall average.
The economy is supposedly recovering. But the long-term unemployment situation has been getting worse — for jobless workers generally and for the older among them in particular.
In December 2009, 22.8% of jobless workers had been looking for more than a year — nearly 3.4 million in all. By December 2010, the total number of officially unemployed workers had subsided somewhat, but the number of long-term unemployed workers had increased to more than 4.2 million, or by about 25%.
The long-term unemployment rate for those aged 55-64 was 29.6% in December 2009. By December 2010, it had increased by nearly 150%. And for those over 65, by about 48%.
So we’ve now got nearly 2.4 million people who, as one of them said, are “too young not to work but too old to work,” i.e., to be given a chance to work again.
Some of them could collect Social Security retirement benefits. Maybe some of them are but can’t afford to live on the amount they get. This would not be unlikely since 2010 benefits averaged $1,1750 a month, less taxes and, for all but the youngest and poorest, a deduction of at least $110.50 for Medicare.
Benefits notwithstanding, I’d guess that some of the long-term unemployed seniors simply aren’t ready to put their skills on the shelf or give up the rewards a job can provide — a sense of competency, human contact, a chance to contribute to something bigger than one’s self, etc.
The received wisdom these days seems to be that education is the answer to unemployment. It’s apparently not the answer to protecting workers from long-term unemployment if they lose their jobs.
As the Pew update shows, long-term unemployment rates varied little by education level. Though the rate was lowest for those with a bachelors degree, it was higher for those with an advanced degree than for those with less than a high school diploma. This represents a marked change from the figures Pew reported for December 2009.
But wouldn’t further education enable workers to move from a job-sparse industry and/or occupation? Maybe, though Pew reports long-term unemployment rates over 20% in every non-agricultural sector and earlier reported nearly the same for occupational categories.
In any case, doubt education would do much for long-term unemployed workers approaching 60 — let alone those who’ve crossed that divide. As a commenter on one of my postings observed, “A 57 year old with no experience in a new field isn’t exactly in demand.”
Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein cites some other reasons. As with all long-term unemployed people, older workers have an ever-growing resume gap that turns employers off. The better-off may not be able to move to a new location because they owe more on their homes than they can sell them for.
Most importantly, they’ve just got too many years behind them. Formal complaints of age discrimination in employment have increased markedly since the recession began.
Virtually all of these reportedly involve layoffs. But that’s surely because age discrimination at the hiring stage is very hard to prove. We’ve got way too much anecdotal evidence to believe it’s not happening.
“What are we going to do for them?” Klein asks about what he foresees will remain “a couple of million hardcore unemployed” workers, mostly older?
I’ve worried a lot about this — not least because I’m in that unemployable age bracket myself. In my fantasies, I turn the question on its head. What can they do for us?
Here are people with many years of work experience. Lots of them have specialized skills that are still in demand. They all got essential workplace skills — or they’d have become hardcore unemployed years ago. They’ve all got the energy and resilience to keep on looking for work — despite rejections or, in more cases, dead silence at the employer end.
Couldn’t we fashion some form of remuneration that would allow them to contribute these assets without living in poverty?
As I said, a mere fantasy. But what are we going to do?