No country for old workers
There's some evidence that gainfully employed congressfolk are recoiling from extending unemployment benefits because they've trouble believing that anyone wouldn't be able to find a job after more than a year. To some degree, this reflects a view of the recession that's national rather than regional. In fact, some states, like North Dakota, have very low unemployment, while some areas, like Detroit, have incredibly high unemployment. If you're stuck in Detroit with a house you can't sell, then it's entirely possible that you still can't find a job.
But another factor that we're increasingly hearing about is age discrimination. We're used to that in firing, but we're seeing it now in hiring, too. This is coming up in a lot of anecdotal accounts of the recession, in which workers who are older than 50 relay their experience being turned down for jobs that they're vastly overqualified for, and that they're willing to take a massive pay cut to get. In effect, they're too young to retire, but too old to get hired. And the numbers back them up:
The unemployment rate for over-55s is at the highest level since 1948. Since the recession started, both the number of older people seeking work and the rate of unemployment for over-55s have increased more sharply than for all other demographic groups. And older workers comprise a high share of the long-term unemployed. In May, the average duration of unemployment for older job-seekers climbed to 44.2 weeks, 11 more weeks than the national average. Nearly six in ten older job-seekers have been out of work for more than six months. [...]
Incidences of age discrimination in firing are much clearer to see [than hiring discrimination], and have risen along with the recession. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says age discrimination cases have jumped 17 percent since the start of the recession, and climbed 30 percent between 2007 and 2008. But virtually all of those cases involve layoffs, rather than the lack of job offers.
Still, evidence of age bias in hiring is accumulating in academic research and anecdotal reports to the EEOC, Commission on Civil Rights and AARP. In one famed 2005 study, a Texas A&M economist sent out 4,000 job applications for entry-level positions. (The resumes were only women’s.) Older workers were 40 percent less likely to receive a response back. And of the letters sent to Congress last week, a vast majority mentioned age, many coming from older workers who had applied for hundreds of positions, to no avail.
Because a higher proportion of the older unemployed drop out of the workforce, you'd actually expect unemployment duration to be lower among older workers. The fact that they're much more likely to be stuck in long-term unemployment is strong evidence that something seriously worrying is going on here.
June 17, 2010; 3:40 PM ET
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