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Friday, March 11, 2011

Do Older Workers Tend to Remain Jobless Longer than Younger Workers?


Record unemployment among older workers does not keep them out of the job market
"workers aged 55 years and older had an average duration of joblessness of 35.5 weeks"

by Emy Sok
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Record unemployment among older workers does not keep them out of the job market. The unemployment rate for persons aged 55 years and older has increased sharply since the beginning of the recession in December 2007.[1] The jobless rate among older workers was 7.1 percent (seasonally adjusted) in February 2010, just shy of the record-high level of 7.2 percent in December 2009. At the same time, the labor force participation rate—the proportion of the population that is either employed or looking for work—for this group rose during much of the recession, before leveling off in recent months.

Although the rate of unemployment among older workers is lower than that for their younger counterparts, older persons who do become unemployed spend more time searching for work. In February 2010, workers aged 55 years and older had an average duration of joblessness of 35.5 weeks (not seasonally adjusted), compared with 23.3 weeks for those aged 16 to 24 years and 30.3 weeks for those aged 25 to 54 years.[2] The longer duration of unemployment among older workers also is reflected in a higher proportion of the unemployed who have been jobless for extended periods. For example, nearly half (49.1 percent) of older jobseekers had been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer in February 2010, compared with 28.5 percent of workers aged 16 to 24 years and 41.3 percent of workers aged 25 to 54 years.

Still, rising unemployment rates have not kept older workers from participating in the job market. In fact, the labor force participation rate for persons aged 55 years and older rose during much of the recession, before flattening out recently. This pattern of rising labor force participation for older workers has occurred for both men and women. In contrast, labor force participation rates for other age groups—especially youths—have declined since the recession began.

Rising labor force participation among older persons is likely part of a long–term pattern that began in the mid–1990s, a change that reversed decades of declining labor force participation among individuals in that age group, particularly men.[3] For persons aged 55 years and older, the labor force participation rate increased from a low of 29.2 percent in 1993 to a peak of 40.4 percent in May 2009, the highest rate since March 1962. Since the recent peak in May 2009, the rate has shown little change; it was 40.0 percent in February 2010.

Recently, some reports have suggested that the increased labor force participation of older workers reflects both the need of many near retirees to work after large losses in their retirement accounts and the need of older workers in general to ensure adequate postretirement incomes to address increased life spans.[4] The fact that the rise in labor force participation for this group began well before the recent financial crisis, plus the absence of an accelerated rise in participation rates during the recession, suggests that the collapse in the financial markets and the declines in asset values were not the only factors associated with the recent rise in participation rates among older workers.

Indeed, one underlying reason behind the long–term rise in participation rates among the 55–years–and–older population is the move by employers to replace defined–benefit retirement plans with defined-contribution retirement plans, allowing employers to shift more responsibility for retirement income to the employee. This was a change that gained momentum in the 1990s, coincident with the rise in older workers’ participation rates. Although there are undoubtedly other factors that may have contributed to the rise in older workers’ labor force participation rates, many research papers have found a connection between these changes in retirement funding and those workers’ increased participation rates.[5]

In sum, the recession that began in December 2007 has affected all demographic groups, including older workers. Their unemployment rate, although lower than that for younger workers, recently reached record–high levels. Once unemployed, older workers tend to remain jobless for longer periods than younger workers. Despite the recession—or perhaps because of it—older workers continued to increase their participation in the job market, at least through mid-2009. Whether the long–term pattern of growing labor force participation rates among older workers will continue beyond the recession remains to be seen.

All of these data come from the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly survey of some 60,000 households that is the source of the national unemployment rate and many other labor market indicators. This Issues paper was prepared by Emy Sok, an economist in the Division of Labor Force Statistics, Office of Employment and Unemployment Statistics. More info


  1. Top 5 Comments from Mature Unemployed Workers;
    Hello to the Mature Unemployed--I volunteer as a Job Counselor, for a small nonprofit in Columbus, Ohio, where we assist mature unemployed workers over 50 years of age in their job search.
    Here are three comments I have been hearing from new clients, based on my experiences over the last nine months of interviews.
    1. This is fast becoming my favorite comment," LinkedIn does not work for me. I have not been contacted by anyone yet."
    Of course LinkedIn does not WORK for you! It is a resource for you to WORK WITH, developing your contacts and enhancing your job search. Please learn how to use this valuable resource and get to work mining your existing contacts.
    2. This comment makes me turn red-"I do not like to network, I am not a social person and it makes me feel uncomfortable".
    GET OVER IT, you are a grown up! Let's face it folks, networking is an activity that is vital to the success of your job search. Please, please, please attend local networking events for your own good. If you feel you are shy, then set a goal of meeting just two people at your first event, then plan on meeting four people at the following event. Go to your events prepared with business cards, your 30 second elevator speech, and make sure you have a copy of your new updated resume, just in case. More than likely someone at the event will approach you and engage you in conversation. Hint--act interested, make eye contact and ask them if they are on LinkedIn.
    3. I am also hearing this concerning comment, "I will have my daughter/son search the job boards for me tonight, because I just do not like using computers and don't have the patience to learn. Hey what are the best job boards to use? Isn't it Monster something? What is Indeed?"
    PLEASE, have some confidence in yourself! You can learn, wake up those dendrites in your brain again and take a basic computer class, for your own good. Even though a majority of jobs are landed via networking these days, job boards are still a viable resource you should be regularly using.

    So I really believe that many older workers remain unemployed longer because they have not prepared correctly for the challenges of job searching today. What may have worked ten years ago does not work today in the wonderful world of job searching.
    There could possibly be some age discrimination out there, but I doubt there is as much a being claimed. Older workers can begin to turn the tide, if they will just prepare correctly for the difficult task at hand.
    So Boomers--get fired up, get out there and meet people. Work harder to update your skill sets. Step out and begin to use social media applications.
    Let's set a goal to reduce the number of unemployed, valuable, experienced mature workers. We can do that!

  2. Terry, I turn 60 in May. I am a sharp-shooter - I have excellent computer skills and could probably show you a thing or two. And I was using social media before that term was even coined and continue to keep up with it. Unfortunately, none of it is working for me at present, and a lot of it works against me. You make good suggestions, but the problems of older workers are more complex than you have represented.

  3. Clearly the statistics answer this question, and they don't surprise me.

    Since being unemployed, I've networked, used LinkedIn as a tool, and earned a professional accreditation. But the job hunt continues.

    Employers, right now, can pick and choose, when looking for very specific, very detailed skills. If you don't have everything, right down to the ability to use Windows 97 to Windows 7, the next person hits the board and you dive off.

    When the economy roars back - and it will - a lot of employers are going to regret passing over those of us whose cultivated talents provide more value than just knowing the latest, greatest programming language.

    By cultivated, I mean, ability to listen, to effectively communicate, to mentor, to teach, and to do real root cause analyis.

    I mean the desire to be dependable, collaborative, willing to learn continuously.

    By cultivated, I mean the ability to show due deference to your peers, patience, and a little wisdom.

    We might be getting passed over now; we'll be the next 'rock stars' in time.

  4. Thank you for your article about unemplyment and older persons. Check out this original song on You Tube about older people during hard times.


    Jim Burns


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