Improving U.S. jobs trend favors old over young

March 9, 2012

By Martin Hutchinson
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The improving U.S. jobs trend confirmed by Friday’s data favors the old over the young. A solid 227,000 jobs were added, with upward revisions for past months, even though the unemployment rate stayed at 8.3 percent. However in the last five years, people aged 55 and over have gained 3.6 million jobs, while younger workers have lost 7.6 million. The incentives of shrunken savings and funny money are doubly harming the young.

The details of February’s report were strong. Professional and business services, healthcare, leisure and hospitality and manufacturing all saw tens of thousands of new jobs. Construction employment declined slightly, indicating that recent strong data was not due simply to the northeastern United States’ mild winter.

Throughout the recent downturn and slow recovery, the 55-and-overs have fared better than their juniors in terms of getting jobs, even if they may not relish having to do so. In the past year alone, they accounted for 67 percent of the 2.5 million net new job gains. Indeed, 600,000 new jobs went to people aged 65 or more, raising the number of people in that age group who are working by more than 10 percent.

The trend has squeezed younger workers. The unemployment rate for those aged 55 or over in February was 5.9 percent, against 7 percent for the 25-54 age group – traditionally considered the prime working years – and disheartening double-digit rates for the under-25s.

It’s possible that in some cases the experience of older workers has helped them beat younger rivals for jobs. At least as likely, though, is that the poor investment returns of the last decade and Federal Reserve policy that has slashed interest rates on their savings have forced them to continue working or to start again.

The U.S. economy benefits from the continued productive employment of older people, though perhaps golf course managers would beg to differ. But younger workers, denied the construction jobs they are physically equipped for because of the housing malaise, may feel their struggle to navigate this difficult economy is worsened by unexpected competition from the wrinklies.

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One reason the old are being hired over the young is that the old now must increasingly work to eat no matter how low the pay. A good example is the huge number of unemployed native born engineers in the USA, while the Government continues to both push foreigners via visa programs and increased engineering education for a dead occupation. Older Americans bring more ability to the table and work for the same wages as the young, or less.

We can all discount older people working on Wall Street, the big Banks at executive level, and Government. Their numbers are insignificant when considered against the whole population, although they make up a clear majority of the “ruling class”.

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