Who Stays on Unemployment Rolls The Longest?

May 4, 2012 4:06pm

It wasn’t the news anyone had hoped for. In April, the economy added just 115,000 jobs. That’s the worst month so far this year, and far below what experts say is needed to pull the country out of its economic slump.

The unemployment rate did dip slightly, from 8.2 percent to 8.1 percent, but that’s partly because frustrated job-seekers have simply given up, and have stopped looking for work.

For those aged 55 or older, the job hunt has proven especially tough. According to AARP’s Public Policy Institute, older workers who lose their jobs are likely to be out of work longer than any other group. The latest numbers show the average time of unemployment for the 55-plus crowd is a whopping 60 weeks. That compares with 38.5 weeks for those under age 55.

The Institute says that 60 weeks of unemployment is the highest recorded, and possibly the highest ever for that age group.

The unemployment rate for those 55 and older in April was 6.3 percent, a good deal lower than the overall jobless rate. But that’s up from 3.2 percent at the beginning of the recession in December 2007. That’s a 97 percent increase, the largest of any age group. Traditionally older workers have had a lower unemployment rate, according to Sara Rix, A senior Strategic Policy Advisor with the AARP’s Public Policy Institute.

“Once those older workers are out of work, they’re not getting back in,” said Rix. “Older workers are more likely to drop out of the labor force.”

“Workers have all suffered since the beginning of the recession; they’ve dipped into their 401(k)’s, taken loans or borrowed. It’s not good for anybody,” said Rix.  ”But younger workers have a longer period of time to recover. Older workers, if they’re lucky enough to find work, are not going to be able to recover as easily.”

The numbers don’t surprise Tom Sachse of Memphis, Tenn. He’s in that 55-plus group and has been looking for work since September. A former sales manager, Sachse believes “it’s about ten times harder for a good-performing older person to get a job than a young one.”

“We have to work to pay the bills,” said Sachse, “and it feels as though the world has dumped us.”

Sachse remains hopeful though. He’s still pounding the pavement and has had some nibbles.

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