Older unemployed workers half as likely to get hired

January 14, 2011

A man waits in line to enter the NYCHires Job Fair in New York December 9, 2009. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton Older workers are less likely to get laid off, but they’re having a much harder time finding new work than younger job-seekers.

New research by the Urban Institute shows that seniority helps protect older workers from job loss — the average jobless rate for workers over age 55 in 2010 was 7.7 percent for men, and 6.2 percent for women. That’s considerably lower than the national unemployment rate, which stood at 9.4 percent in December. Overall, workers age 50 to 61 were 34 percent less likely to lose their jobs during the downturn than younger workers, the Urban Institute researchers found.

But workers in that age group who have lost their jobs in the recession are one-third less likely to find new work than their counterparts age 25 to 34. And workers over age 62 were half as likely to be re-employed:

Unemployed older workers - Urban Institute

What’s more, workers who do find new jobs are accepting lower pay. Median hourly wages for displaced men age 50 to 61 who became re-employed from 1996 to 2007 fell 20 percent below the median figures for their former jobs; by contrast, wages fell just 4 percent for men age 25 to 34.

The findings point to the difficulty of keeping workers on the job longer — an aim of policymakers hoping to reduce pressure on federal spending for entitlement programs such as Social Security.

“We need to get people to work longer so they can help produce the goods and services necessary to promote economic growth and help pay taxes to fund public services,” says Richard Johnson, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and a co-author of the report. “But that can’t happen unless seniors can find work. We need to devote more money to training and employment services for older workers. The federal government has only one small employment program targeted to older people — we need more. We should also consider extending unemployment benefits for older people, since it takes them so long to find work when unemployed.”

Age discrimination claims filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have spiked in recent years. One researcher hoping to quantify discrimination in hiring several years ago sent out 4,000 resumes for fictitious female applicants to companies that had run newspaper ads for open jobs in Boston, Mass., and St. Petersburg, Florida, with ages ranging from 35 to 62. She indicated the fictitious applicants’ ages by listing the date of high school graduation. She found that a younger worker was more than 40 percent more likely to be called back for an interview than an older worker, when “older” was defined as age 50 or higher.

“Employers are clearly reluctant to hire older workers,” says Johnson. “Many are concerned that older workers are more expensive than younger ones, that they lack up-to-date skills, that they won’t be around long enough to justify the cost of hiring and training them. These concerns are mostly unfounded, but they’re widespread. If that’s not outright age discrimination, it certainly comes close.”

Dr. David DeLong, an expert in organizational behavior, acknowledges that age discrimination is an issue, but urges job seekers to focus on aspects of the hunt that they can control. Among his key recommendations:

Keep skills current. For example, older job candidates may think they’re up on the latest, but may not be familiar with the latest social media or mobile computing technology.

Expand horizons. The odds of landing a new job just like the old one are very slim, due to ongoing downsizing of large corporations and economic restructuring spurred by globalization. Older workers need to consider training for new occupations and consider self-employment or entrepreneurial options.

Don’t over-play deep experience. Years of experience don’t always win the day and may be a turn-off with younger hiring managers who may perceive you as an arrogant know-it-all. Rather than talk about how you’ve done it elsewhere, explain how you’d help solve a prospective employer’s problems and mention how you’ve applied solutions to similar challenges elsewhere.

DeLong recently talked about the challenges older workers face with Over50andOutofWork, a website that has been collecting video interviews with labor force experts and jobless older workers. Here’s the interview:

David DeLong from Over Fifty and Out of Work on Vimeo.

I also recommend an excellent in-depth report DeLong wrote on joblessness among older workers, Buddy Can You Spare a Job, which is available as a free PDF download.


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I love how people like to call Social Security an “entitlement program.”

Do we all not pay into this fund similar to a private retirement system. With the constant racheting up in retirement age, a good many workers will never get all the money out that they paid in to the “system.”

An then there is the constant raiding of the “piggy bank” by virtually every congress since it was created. And they leave IOW’s in the form of Treasury Notes for all the money taken to balance budgets.

How about govt pay back what they have taken, and quit embezzling our retirement funds?

Posted by Robert76 | Report as abusive

A nicely written article. Trouble is no one over 50 ever gets hired for anything unless it’s a million/yr+ gig. Everyone else is cooked.

Posted by everyone | Report as abusive

Social Security is the ultimate Ponzi Scheme. I have no idea why no one has said this before.

Posted by Homeward_bound | Report as abusive

Working beyond “52” at GM was, “good luck and fat chance”, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s! I’m confident, the writing was on the wall, forecasting the demise of that corporation. It became inevitable that something drastic would happen. Each and every contract the UAW negotiated, had demands GM honored and at each and every contract, the salary employees lost more and more. At the last contract under the okd GM, there was nothing more to take away or cut, other than employees, since a hiring freeze was on, & car sales were very slow and the entire countrys economy was slowing down to depression proportions.

Posted by donaldjb | Report as abusive

Make a choice: (a) Social Security is not an entitlement program, therefore, making paying Social Security tax strictly voluntary and warn people they are not guaranteed a dime upon retirement; or (b) Social Security is an entitlement program, therefore, continue forcing people to pay Social Security taxes with the guarantee they will receive the amount shown on their periodic Social Security statement mailed to them.

Obviously, sending people periodic account statements from the Social Security Administration showing if they have maxed out, what they payed into the system their entire careers, and their monthly entitled amount, can only work in a civilized society if it’s true. Otherwise, why can’t banks simply lie to people, send them bank statements with the amount they put in, then one day decide to simply close their accounts and say, “Sorry, but we had other plans for your funds, so your account is closed.”

Our times are peculiar because we want it both ways. We want our cake and eat it too. That’s human. That’s like an employee stomping their feet and screaming, “I want my salary raised to $10 million a year because the CEO makes that much!!” Doesn’t mean that employee will get squat except a swift kick out the door, but hey, we can stomp our feet and demand anything we want.

With Social Security, protesting will not change the fact that Social Security sends account statements to millions of people whom each paid upward of three quarters of a century and have a file cabinet full of Social Security financial statements. Social Security is like a bank account in that way; compare a SS statement to a bank statement and there no substantive difference (just a unique statement format). Defaulting on SS monthly payments to retirees is no different than defaulting on 401K plan monthly payments, except that Uncle Sam is immune from prosecution in the former case.

Posted by DisgustedReader | Report as abusive

Yep, all of the above.

Posted by SanPa | Report as abusive

What is life like for the new older generation?S Is it the doom and gloom of Reuters or the rainbow and sunshine of CSM.
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-Is sues/2011/0116/How-retirement-is-being-r einvented-worldwide

I think it sucks anyway you look at it.

Posted by vsheehan | Report as abusive

[…] Unemployed Seniors Face Difficulties in Job Market Reuters Older unemployed Americans may find it more difficult to compete in the struggling job market than younger adults, new data shows. A study from the Urban Institute shows the chances of jobless adults 50 to 61 finding a new position drops by one-third in comparison to younger individuals 25 to 34. Adults over 62 will see their job prospects drop by one-half. […]

Posted by Financial News Roundup: Senior Citizen Unemployment, New Facebook Privacy Controversy | Report as abusive

Its sad to experienced the truth. but there is always an options for micro livelihood programs. May be the law maker should go look into, to make it doable.

Posted by ArtNMD | Report as abusive

I’m age 68, formerly middle- to upper-middle class with two long and successful careers behind me. I lost my job unexpectedly in March 2009, nearly two and a half years ago, and have not worked since, nor am I in a position to just retire. It’s a crisis, that’s for sure.

Posted by lynndavidnewton | Report as abusive