Unemployment Tough to Shake for Older Workers
August 15, 2012 8:33 am
Recent research demonstrates (and ongoing press corroborates) that older workers who lose their jobs in today’s economy are having a particularly tough time re-entering the workforce. While the unemployment rate for workers over 65 is well below the national average at 6.5%, the US Bureau of Labor statistics demonstrate that the average length of unemployment for older workers is 56 weeks — compared to an average 38 weeks for younger job seekers.
A report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) lays out the barriers facing the aging unemployed:
1. Higher Wages- The higher wages previously earned by job seekers with a wealth of experience can give HR departments cold feet. Larry Wilson, a 57-year old job seeker who worked steadily from his teenage years until he was laid off from an account manager position in 2004, speaks to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about perceived salary requirements: “If you look at my resume it looks like I’d cost a fortune,” he said. A hiring manager might think “he covered both North and South America; he must have made at least $100,000 so he won’t settle for $50,000-$60,000. That’s what I would think if I was on the other side of the desk. Your experience doesn’t work for you anymore, it works against you.”
2. Out-of-date Skills - The GAO report states: “Workforce professionals we interviewed said that many older workers lack up-to-date skills with computers and other technology, and this puts them at a disadvantage in becoming reemployed. Some noted that after a long spell of unemployment, even those older workers who had previously been proficient with computer technology might find their technology skills outdated.” Employers may also be hesitant to invest heavily in training older workers. For those with lagging technology skills, even online applications can be trying (online applications also provide employers with birthdate information, which can result in screening).
3. Costly Health Benefits – Older employees can be viewed as a resource drain for corporate benefit programs. From the report: “A key reason employers are reluctant to hire older workers is that they expect providing health benefits to older workers would be costly….In addition, a few focus group participants who had handled their previous employer’s health insurance or had been involved in hiring decisions said they had seen that older workers substantially increased insurance costs, which provided a disincentive to hire older worker.”
The report also refers to the vicious psychological tolls caused by seemingly endless job hunting: “…workforce professionals said that depressed or discouraged job seekers may show up at interviews looking disheveled or may become short-tempered during interviews. A workforce professional in Falls Church, Virginia, said that employers have told him they had decided against hiring an older job applicant because the applicant had appeared too desperate for a job.”
The GAO’s observations seem to evidence discriminatory attitudes towards older workers, yet the opaque methods of HR departments make these biases hard to prove. AARP President Robert Romasco states: “It’s difficult to prove without a shadow of doubt that it’s discrimination. But if you talk to anyone over 50 looking for job, you know they’re not feeling the love.”
The AARP’s Work Reimagined initiative seeks to empower older job seekers with the knowledge and resources necessary to succeed in a difficult job market. The program has also secured commitments from 120 large employers to actively recruit experienced workers.
The recession has allowed employers to cut their labor costs and keep productivity high even as their profits recover — now preconceived biases against older workers have them ignoring qualified, experienced applicants.
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