Older white males hurt more by this recession

Dean Canaris, 56, a quality engineer for a Honda automotive supplier, was laid off in April and out the door in 30 minutes with no severance.

Harry Jackson, 55, an airline pilot and supervisor, lost his job in 2007 and, to his surprise, has found it nearly impossible to get another job.

Mark Montgomery, 53, was let go from an Owens Corning insulation factory in April and can't afford his $575 monthly mortgage payment.

These men from the Columbus, Ohio, area are the unusual new faces of joblessness in this groundbreaking recession: older men cut loose from employment at the peak of their earning power and work experience.

In previous recessions, veteran workers were largely spared the pain of widespread job cutbacks, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Layoffs tended to be concentrated among younger workers: The younger you were, the more likely you were to get fired. Traditional, bread-winning older males — especially white men — were the least vulnerable.

Not so today. Aging Baby Boomers are suffering a harsh employment bust.

"I never dreamed it would be so hard to put my skills back to work," says Jackson, who was assistant chief pilot at Skybus, a discount airline that went out of business.

Jobless rates for men and women older than 55 are at their highest level since the Great Depression, government data show. White men over 55 had a record 6.5% unemployment rate in the second quarter, far above the previous post-Depression high of 5.4% in 1983. The jobless rate for older black men was higher — 10.5% — but more than a percentage point below its 1983 peak.

The most remarkable change is in the unemployment rate for black women: 12.2%, far below the historic peak of 20% in 1983. Hispanic unemployment is about 6 percentage points below historic highs, too.

In other words, this recession has shrunk the racial gap in unemployment, largely because white men are doing so much worse than usual.

Those above 55 also are spending more time than ever between jobs. Older workers spend an average 27 weeks between jobs, about five weeks longer than younger workers.

"When you lose your job after many years, you're not only looking for a job. You find the nature of employment has changed," says Deborah Russell, director of workforce issues at AARP, the lobbying group representing people 50 and older.

But the cocoon of protection that experience once brought has unraveled in this downturn.

"This recession has gone far deeper into layers of society than we've seen in the past," says Nelse Grundvig, an economist at the North Carolina Employment Security Commission.

"People losing jobs are increasingly male and increasingly older."

The recession has hit older men hard because job loss has been concentrated in male-dominated fields, such as construction, manufacturing and finance. The decline of unions, which protected employees with seniority, has played a role, too.

"The bloodletting has been in parts of the economy where men work," Grundvig says.

That change is rippling through the economy in troubling ways because older people generally carry greater financial responsibility than younger people.

The loss of a job for an older worker can erase the dominant income of a middle-class family, wipe out savings as retirement nears and deny aging people health insurance when it's needed most.

"So many of these men were coasting to retirement, working at good jobs and earning good pay.

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