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Are Older Workers Worse Off Now?


There’s no doubt that the unemployment situation for those over 55 is troubling, as roughly 2.1 million people in this age group are currently unemployed. And while these numbers are dismal, the unemployment picture for this group is a bit more nuanced than these initial numbers reveal, according to a new report by the AARP.

Here are three of the major trends in employment among the 55 and up set.

1. The 55+ unemployment rate remains lower than the overall rate. The unemployment rate for all workers inched up from 9.1% in May to 9.2% in June. For older workers, the picture is slightly better: Their unemployment rate hit 7% in June, up from 6.8% in May. What’s more, older workers remained about 15.2% of the total number of people who were unemployed in June — roughly the same percentage as in May.

2. The number of older Americans with jobs has increased since the recession, while the opposite is true of younger people. In other positive news, the employed population over 55 has increased by about 2.4 million (or 9.3%) since December 2007, the official start of the recession.  What’s more, older people were the only group to experience a growth in employment during this time (see chart, courtesy of AARP, below).

Change in Employment by Age

Age Dec-07 (000) June-11 (000) % Change
Total 146,272 139,334 -4.70
16–24 19,596 17,210 -12.20
25–54 100,465 93,505 -6.90
55+ 26,240 28,670 9.30

*Estimates for specific age groups above may not add up to the total 16+ because the seasonal adjustments are made independently. Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, labor force statistics from the Current Population Survey, http://data.bls.gov/pdq/querytool.jsp?survey=ln.

3. The long-term unemployment rate for older workers remains far worse than average. But one trend looks far less promising for the 55+ set: More than half (54.5%) of older unemployed workers have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more, compared to just 40% of workers under 55.  What’s more, the 55+ long-term unemployed worker has been out of work for 52.4 weeks, compared to 35.6 weeks for the average long-term unemployed worker who was under 55.

Still this picture isn’t completely bleak for the older worker. The percentage of older workers who were out of work for 27 weeks or more actually decreased in June (from 57.8% in May), as did the total number of weeks they were out of work (from 54.7 in May).  However, Sara Rix, a senior strategic policy adviser at AARP’s Public Policy Institute warns that these improvements should be taken with a grain of salt as once someone stops looking for work — as many long-term unemployed individuals eventually do — they are no longer counted in this number.

Here are some tips from AARP on combating unemployment.


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About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.