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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Older Unemployed Workers Following the Recent Economic Recession

Janemarie Mulvey
Specialist in Aging and Income Security

While the economic recession that began in December of 2007 has officially ended, unemployment rates still remain close to 10%. Especially hard hit have been older workers, aged 55 and older, for whom unemployment rates have reached historical highs. A combination of an increase in the number of older individuals re-entering the workforce and a limited number of job openings (i.e., weak demand for labor) is responsible for their historically high unemployment rate.

Older unemployed workers face a unique set of challenges, distinct from those of their younger counterparts. The magnitude of these challenges will vary depending on individual circumstances. For example, although age discrimination laws may help older workers retain a job, these laws are less effective for older workers who have become unemployed and are searching for a new job as hiring discrimination cases may be harder to prove than termination cases. Following the recent economic recession, there is a significant number of job applicants for many positions, providing potential employers with a much broader pool of applicants from which to choose. In deciding whom to choose, many employers may view older workers as more costly in terms of both compensation and health care costs relative to younger workers.

Furthermore, most public programs providing income support and health insurance for the unemployed are targeted toward those who have recently lost their jobs (regardless of age). For example, unemployment insurance generally does not provide assistance to the older unemployed who may be returning to the workforce after an extended absence (e.g., retirement). In many cases, their ability to access other resources will depend on their age. For example, some older workers may not be eligible for public programs such as Social Security and Medicare until they reach a certain age. In addition, restrictions on access to retirement savings and home equity under a reverse mortgage are also tied to age. Finally, although the enactment of health care reform will eventually improve access to health insurance coverage for the older unemployed under the age of 65, most of these provisions will not be effective until 2014.

Unemployed older workers also experience longer durations of unemployment compared to younger cohorts. Older workers are unemployed, on average, over five weeks longer than their younger counterparts. About 41% of those aged 55 and older are unemployed for more than one year, compared with 34% of younger workers. Longer durations and less time to replenish lost income before retiring may lead to a less secure future retirement.

This report first looks at historical trends in unemployment and labor force participation among older workers, the reasons for becoming unemployed, and the duration of their unemployment. It then identifies the challenges that certain subgroups of older workers may face and the availability of financial resources and health insurance coverage during their spell of unemployment. 

Date of Report: January 3, 2011
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R41557
Price: $29.95

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