Long-Term Unemployment Update Shows Jobless Workers Handicapped By Age

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?


19 Responses to Long-Term Unemployment Update Shows Jobless Workers Handicapped By Age

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JobsDirectUSA, Carol Gratz and dog5throw, Carlos Gil. Carlos Gil said: #jobless Long-Term Unemployment Update Shows Jobless Workers Handicapped By … http://bit.ly/eDUDy9 http://bit.ly/a56q5r […]

  2. Lee says:

    I’m male, 49 years old, have Asperger’s syndrome and have never had a job. What do think are my chances of securing employment?

  3. Kathryn Baer says:

    Lee, I wouldn’t venture an opinion on your chances of securing a job. I wonder if someone at your local One-Stop Shop employment centers or at a nonprofit that specializes in job training and placement could give you some advice.

  4. […] at the other end of the working-age range may be left on the sidelines, even if jobs proliferate faster than anyone […]

  5. […] at the other end of the working-age range may be left on the sidelines, even if jobs proliferate faster than anyone […]

  6. […] I wrote back in February, the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative found that long-term unemployment rates were […]

  7. […] I wrote back in February, the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative found that long-term unemployment rates were […]

  8. juanita Bethea says:

    What is going on in america the older worker are the forgotten ones no one cares about you and you are to young to apply for social security so what are you suppose to do now . now you have losted everything you ever owned in your life you have the skills to do the jobs, but you can not make people give you a job and you can not prove age discrimination so what are you suppose to do
    so what is going on in america for the older generation staffing agency will mark your application or code it you can not complaint to anyone because no one will listen so what are you suppose to do

  9. RH Pyle says:


    As someone in the same situation as you, I’d say we press our legislators to reverse some of the country’s trade and labor policies. The statistics don’t lie,,, discrimination is certain. On that front, I’d suggest pressure on the Govt to demand of the business world that they provide the demographics of those who apply for work and insist that the proportions be aligned with the population. WITH,, stiff penalties for fraud and manipulation of the data.


  10. Kathryn Baer says:

    I’m not sure what trade and labor policies you think should be reversed, RH. What I’m quite sure of is that it would be futile to demand that businesses try to align job applications with population demographics. Even more futile if what you mean is align hires with demographics. Not only futile, but off the mark. Consider that there may be proportionately many more qualified candidates in some population groups than others, depending on what type of job is at issue.

  11. RH Pyle says:

    I realize on reflection that my first idea is half baked. Nonetheless, in the recent years of de-regulation, it appears that mega business is the only thing de-regulated. The citizenry are even more regulated than ever. The consequence is escalating poverty and social de-stabilazation. Encouraging manufacturing to move abroad and accepting the unfair trade policies with competing nations is clearly not good for the American consumer / worker.

    As far as demographics,,,I am fully qualified in my trade but am 60 yrs old. The bias against the older worker will condemn myself and my loved ones to homelessness. Only a nation of laws ensuring fairness can prevent a return to the days of the Triangle Shirtwaist disaster. There’s an example of businessmen and their lust for riches at any expense but their own.
    At present, my experience and qualifications are apparently without value if I am to gauge it against the successful job candidate. (Who, I am confident, I can match or surpass in any tangible gauge of performance.)
    Since the stock answer is “age discrimination is hard to prove”, I guess I should just go off and die quietly. I assure you, there’s little chance of that.
    I’d welcome any feedback you might have which would enable Juanita and myself to work and be productive.
    RH Pyle

  12. Kathryn Baer says:

    I personally don’t feel over-regulated, RH. Nor do I think that big businesses as a whole are under-regulated. Enforcement of existing regulations is a problem, however. And we do have tax policies that make it advantageous for companies to move manufacturing (and other operations) abroad.

    What you say about your current situation is very distressing. I too am at that age when discrimination seems to be a factor. I wish I had some smart advice, but I don’t.

    This much I think I know. It’s important to keep working, even if not for pay. You can demonstrate the skills you have, make new contacts and keep that gap in your resume from growing. Also, if my own experience means anything, offset the feelings of solitude and futility.

    It’s also possible, in some cases, to find some consulting gigs or other contract work. Same advantages as above. And I think age bias is less of a factor—among other things, because employers don’t have to concern themselves with how your age will affect their health benefits costs, whether you’ll retire before their investment in training you pays off, how you’ll get along with the twenty-somethings on the team, etc.

    Finally, I’ve found useful pointers on a website especially for older job seekers. Here’s the link: http://internsover40.blogspot.com/

    Let me know what you think.

  13. RH Pyle says:

    Thank you Kathryn,
    Although unemployed, I haven’t been idle. After a lifetime working as a tool and die maker / machinist, mechanic, electrician and (surprisingly) a computer / software tech,,,,I now work on vintage race cars owned by collectors and formula racing fans. As such, the pay is sparse, (just enough to buy fuel and some food) and the wealthy fellows who own the cars are also nervous about the economy so they put their “hobbies” on a back burner. I’ll give a look at the website(s) you advised and get back with a response.

    I hope Juanita is keyed in on this exchange and can glean some value from it’s content.

    By the way,, do you respond to many commentors (probably not a word) as you have with mine?

    R Pyle

  14. Kathryn Baer says:

    Sounds to me as if you’ve got an impressive range of in-demand skills, RH. Also that you’ve perhaps found a niche you can expand. I think there are good reasons to hope that you’ll find something suitable when the economy recovers. And surely it will, sooner or later.

    In answer to your question, I generally respond to comments because I like to think of blogging as a conversation. I’ve respond to yours at greater length than some because you raised important issues and because you asked for my thoughts.

    Thanks for taking the time. And let me know how things go.

  15. RH Pyle says:

    Thanks for answering. I wondered after I ascertained your identity how you could find time to react to every post. I appreciate your responding to mine. It’s thought provoking.

    If the “niche” you refer to is the racecar work,, it’s evaporating before my eyes.

    I investigated a “would you go back to school” advertisement at internsover40 and the result was / is immediate and aggressive. Before the electrons settled down in my computer the phone was ringing. The aggressive response undermined credibility but I haven’t slammed any doors. What do you think?


  16. Kathryn Baer says:

    What I think, Bob, is probably much what you think. The response to your click was disconcerting, but if you think some coursework could improve your job prospects, you should look into the possibilities further.

  17. RH Pyle says:

    Hello Kathryn,

    I did a pretty thorough investigation of internsover40 blogspot and it yielded little fruit other than aggressive sales pitches from Universities of ill repute.
    Getting work here in south central Virginia has never been easy and if I relocate I’d be compelled to abandon family at the worst possible time.
    I did notice though, the EEOC asks for demographic info such as sex, ethnicity and military background but asks nothing about the applicants age. Having a cynical nature, I’d speculate the EEOC doesn’t hold the older worker in high regard either.

    Thanks for everything nonetheless.


  18. Kathryn Baer says:

    Sorry the blog didn’t yield anything of interest. I’ve found some of the advice useful, but our situations are very different.

    So far as EEOC is concerned, I think your cynicism may be misplaced. The agency asks for demographics that could indicate discrimination on bases that are prohibited under federal law so that it can intervene if it perceives a clear “pattern and practice.” Age is a prohibited basis, but EEOC may have decided that merely collecting data on applicants’ ages won’t significantly help with enforcement.

    Congressman George Miller, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee is looking for personal stories that he and his colleagues could use to support Congressional action on job-creating proposals.

    Maybe you’d like to tell yours. Here’s the link: http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/eforum

  19. RH Pyle says:

    Thanks Kathryn,

    It appears that Congressman Miller has blinders on too. My situation doesn’t fit well with his “education / construction worker” agenda but I’ll write him a Greek tragedy just the same. Who knows, perhaps some good may come of it.

    I appreciate your taking time and effort to have this back and forth with me. It’s theraputic in the context of stimulating new ideas. Still, I am convinced that for as long as the plutocracy remains, the overseas manufacturing will not abate. There is no profit motive in hiring Americans while the current trade policies are in force. I often wonder if they realize that poverty makes for little consumerism. Perhaps they believe that a 1,3 billion population in China will be the new consumer market. If that is what they think I’ll wager they’re wrong. China values human life even less than Americans. Having been there, I can attest to that. They are however brilliant capitalists.

    Thanks again,

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