When times are hard, older workers get hit the hardest

November 7, 2012
By: Charles Lamberton

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office has found that once unemployed, it takes older job seekers significantly longer to find new work. Since the recession started, the median length of unemployment has more than tripled for older workers, increasing at a greater rate than that of younger workers. Prior to the recession, the median duration of unemployment for job seekers age 55 and over was 10 weeks compared with 9 weeks for job seekers aged 25-54. By 2011, the median duration of unemployment for older job seekers had increased to 35 weeks compared with 26 weeks for younger job seekers. In 2007, less than a quarter of unemployed older workers were unemployed for longer than 27 weeks. By 2011, this number had increased to 55 percent. Moreover, by 2011 over one-third of all unemployed older workers had been unemployed for over a year.

The GAO report cites several studies that explain why companies favor younger workers:  Younger workers typically earn less; employers expect younger workers will be healthier and have less of an impact on health care costs; employers expect older workers to “have an issue” working for a younger boss; employers believe older workers’ technical skills are out of date, and that they are likely to retire in the near term.

As they struggle with long-term unemployment, older Americans are doing what they can to get by. An AARP Public Policy Institute report released last month 69 percent of older Americans had slashed expenses; 57 percent of workers had tapped savings; 52 percent delayed medical or dental treatment; 37 percent stopped saving for retirement; 35 percent used credit cards to pay for daily living expenses; and 18 percent took distributions from their retirement accounts.