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Posted at 11:13 AM ET, 01/28/2011

Too young not to work, too old to get a job

By Ezra Klein

longtermbyage.png

Pew's new report on long-term unemployment is sobering stuff:

Thirty percent of those who are jobless have been unemployed a year or more (long-term unemployment) as of December 2010. Equaling 4.2 million people -- roughly the population of Kentucky -- this is 25 percent more people affected by long-term unemployment than a year prior (December 2009, 3.4 million)....Using the CPS data, Pew calculated that the persistent problem of long-term unemployment is occurring across education and age groups but those who are older than 55 are most likely to remain jobless for a year or more. Additionally, a high level of education only provides limited protection against long-term unemployment -- the rates are similar across degree attainment: 31 percent of unemployed workers with a bachelor’s degree have been out of work for a year or more, compared to 36 percent of high school graduates and 33 percent of high school drop-outs.

The interplay between age and unemployment really worries me. On some level, we have a rosy view of "structural unemployment": It's a guy in Reno, Nev., who has skills better suited to the job market in Boulder, Colo. That's not an easy problem to fix -- our Reno resident doesn't scan Boulder's "help wanted" ads -- but it at least points toward a way the problem can be fixed. But a lot of older workers have found that employers just don't want to hire them. They are, in the words of one job-seeker in Warren County, N.J., "too young not to work, but to old to work." Or, more to the point, too old to get a job. When they apply for jobs much below their previous position, they're rejected as overqualified. When they try to hold the line, employers default to younger workers. And in both cases, there's a quiet assumption that young workers will be better at learning new skills than older workers will be.

Eventually, the unemployment rate in this country will come down. But it's very likely that there'll still be a core of a couple of million hardcore unemployed -- people who're a bit older, who're underwater on their houses in an area with a weak labor market, and who are becoming less employable as both their age and their time out of work come to seem more and more glaring on their resumes. What are we going to do for them?

By Ezra Klein  | January 28, 2011; 11:13 AM ET
Categories:  Economy  
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Comments

Yes, what are we going to do for them? When Austan Goolsbee comes right out and says that it's a problem and he feels badly for those who are in this situation and exhausting their unemployment benefits with no other source of income on the horizon - and no will in Congress to provide any sort of help. A President who ignores the millions desperately crying out for help. And a Congress more concerned with making sure Wall Street and the rich get even more of the few remaining dollars from the poor.

What are we going to do for them? When our country's citizens and more importantly, leadership, are more concerned with helping foreign nations out of their own self-inflicted crises or natural disasters, but flat out refuse to acknowledge the massive humanitarian crisis in their own country!

What are we going to do for them? At this point, the message being sent is that we are a burden and should find a way to quietly commit suicide so that the Administration doesn't look bad and the President can get himself re-elected in 2012. What other explanation is there for the fact that no one in Washington can bother coming up with a solid plan to put people back to work, no matter their age, in jobs that pay living wages.

What are we going to do for them? I think the better question is: What can we do for them?

Posted by: truchicagogal | January 28, 2011 12:17 PM | Report abuse

There's lots we could do, but I'm not optimistic we will do any of them. How about letting long-term unemployed go on Medicare at age 55?

Posted by: AuthorEditor | January 28, 2011 12:25 PM | Report abuse

There is lots that can be done. Most obvious: bring back the WPA. There is plenty of public work(s) to be done if private employers don't want to hire.

Of course there's not much that will be done politically speaking.

But you gotta say, the unemployed, under-employed and otherwise disadvantaged don't do themselves any good when they don't vote, or vote for those (i.e., Republicans) who are least likely do anything.

Of course when Obama can't muster the gumption to even talk about the problem, I guess there's not at present a whole lot to choose.

Posted by: jtmiller42 | January 28, 2011 12:26 PM | Report abuse

An obvious solution is to lower the retirement age for full, untaxable Social Security benefits. Yes, lower the age for retirement. That works. I have not heard of any other proposal that works. Those that are able, can support the volunteer activities of the economy...

Posted by: denim39 | January 28, 2011 12:29 PM | Report abuse

One thing we can do for them: not raise the retirement age for Social Security.

Difficulty in finding a job when you're over 55 (even over 50) is a well-known phenomenon to those of us in the over-55 crowd. And it feels a lot like the "gray" discrimination that's been talked about by over-sixites for several decades. Only the bar has been lowered. And we're not gray. We have degrees and computer skills and we work out at gyms and participate in the contemporary culture. What makes it scary is that people in their 50s really need to work because, unlike previous generations, they had their children later and thus are paying (or still paying off) steep college tuitions for their children (or trying to help their unemployed or uninsured young adult children); and because of the mobile society in which we live, they often have mortgages to pay off because they haven't lived in one home all their adult lives. It's scary.

Whatever the government comes up with to address this, though, should be a temporary solution targeted to this job crisis. Because we don't want to permanently accept the premise that people with 35 or 40 more years to live are useless to the work force and consign them to becoming wards of the state. We need to change the cultural perception; we need a movement.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | January 28, 2011 12:33 PM | Report abuse

And... First do no harm! Let's at least stop talking about raising the retirement age.

Posted by: jtmiller42 | January 28, 2011 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Ezra, for posting this article. This issue, in and of itself, is perhaps the most important, pressing employment matter of our times.

Consider a college educated individual, aged 55, who loses employment, then must search for work. Can't work at Burger King, but can't find a career position either. 10 years until full Social Security kicks in, assuming 65 remains the "trigger" age. 65 for Medicare, too.

Now, consider the large number of people aged, say, 55-60, remembering that these folks are part of the Boomer generation.

To cut to the "chase". the result is many millions of skilled workers facing, at any moment, destitution. No exaggeration.

This scenario deserves cogent analysis and reporting. Perhaps you, Ezra, might find some time and energy to pursue that work?

I'd be appreciative to understand any solution you might find to the matter, as I fear there is none whatsoever.

Posted by: dmipres | January 28, 2011 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Ezra, for posting this article. This issue, in and of itself, is perhaps the most important, pressing employment matter of our times.

Consider a college educated individual, aged 55, who loses employment, then must search for work. Can't work at Burger King, but can't find a career position either. 10 years until full Social Security kicks in, assuming 65 remains the "trigger" age. 65 for Medicare, too.

Now, consider the large number of people aged, say, 55-60, remembering that these folks are part of the Boomer generation.

To cut to the "chase". the result is many millions of skilled workers facing, at any moment, destitution. No exaggeration.

This scenario deserves cogent analysis and reporting. Perhaps you, Ezra, might find some time and energy to pursue that work?

I'd be appreciative to understand any solution you might find to the matter, as I fear there is none whatsoever.

Posted by: dmipres | January 28, 2011 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for at least acknowledging the problem. I find it appalling and terrifying that Obama and Co. talk optimistically about the coming economic rebound and the skyrocketing stock market (today, not so much) as if that meant anything to those who have been hurt the most by the recession and for whom there is no clear way out. As another reader commented, we couldn't even get a temporary buy-in to Medicare through Congress. There is a core of smart, capable people who are leading lives of quiet desperation and who are becoming increasing invisible. The long-term unemployed are going to be this decade's inconvenient truth. Why we're not out in the streets like the French and the Greeks escapes me.

Posted by: jsf1 | January 28, 2011 12:52 PM | Report abuse

This is a terribly constructed chart, which leads to some misleading results. The chart shows the age break down of the unemployed, but the age categories aren't broken up evenly. There are obviously many more people in the age category 25-34 than in the age category 20-24 (roughly twice) plus fewer 20-24 year-olds are in the work force. As a result, we would expect there to be more unemployed in this category if unemployment was equally distributed across all age groups. Similarly, it's impossible to tell whether unemployment is worse for people 65+ since there's no way to judge the relative number of people in the workforce age 65+ compared to say 55-64.

To say anything meaningful about unemployment, the numbers need to be weighted by the total number of people in the workforce from each age category. In other words, it should show the unemployment rate for each group, not the fraction of the total unemployed.

Posted by: kroner | January 28, 2011 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I agree with kroner that this is a confusing graphic. It can't be a breakdown of the fraction of unemployed falling into each group since, for example, the December 2010 data has 6 of the 7 categories having over 20%. So I don't know what these numbers are. The pdf at the link appears to be gibberish.

Posted by: anggna | January 28, 2011 1:23 PM | Report abuse

More Newspeak in the vain hopes of more government spending ... get the message dude the party's over ... you guys had your shot and blew it ... next ...

Posted by: cunn9305 | January 28, 2011 1:43 PM | Report abuse

What can we do? We can streamline government! More exports! Cut taxes for the rich! Win the future!

Posted by: B405 | January 28, 2011 2:00 PM | Report abuse

"What are we going to do for them?"

That's pretty funny. Doing things for people is so outdated.

If by "we" you mean your lovely friends there in DC, the answer is plain, though you will pretend it isn't: NOTHING.

Those pesky older people - not any of OUR friends, you understand, we mean those other older people - can just be a burden on their families, or be homeless, or go to jail, like any of those other selfish unmotivated poor people in America.

Right, wingnuts? Screw em. That's the USA Way.

Posted by: tatere | January 28, 2011 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Ezra:
Considering the Obama Admin., like you, believe in neoliberalism the answer is nothing.

Posted by: PhilPerspective | January 28, 2011 2:29 PM | Report abuse

We'll let them starve. It's not like any of them are military veterans, with weapons, and relatives currently in the military.

Posted by: wiredog | January 28, 2011 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Has GE's Jeff Immelt, Pres. Obama's economic advisory council chair, mentioned any plans to specifically address the problem of long-term unemployment and older unemployeds?

Posted by: tuber | January 28, 2011 2:31 PM | Report abuse

What are we going to do for them?

-advise them to buy stock in GE
-buy them one-way airline tickets to Beijing
-kindly ask them to drop dead
-offer them apples and oranges at a federally subsidized rate so they can resell them on highway on-ramps and between highway medians (see option 3)
-increase agricultural subsidies for catfood and ramen noodles


just a few suggestions

Posted by: johninflorida | January 28, 2011 3:05 PM | Report abuse

A couple of problems here, with hiring older workers.
1) maybe they have experience, but they don't train as easily;
2) benefit costs skyrocket for healthcare past a certain age, just as medical costs do.

Of these, I would guess that the benefits costs are more relevant to a potential employer. Younger workers will often accept lower salaries, and their benefits costs are very low, compared to 50+.

On another front, what is the impact of a 55+ worker spending his/her last 10 years in the workforce at reduced income on SSI benefits?? As I understand it, benefits are calculated based on the last quarters of earnings, not the peak. How many quarters, I do not know, but I'd bet its not 10 years worth.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | January 28, 2011 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like we need to temporarily lower the retirement age to open some jobs up and introduce a temporary tax credit to employers who hire these too-old-to-work unemployed.

Posted by: edmigper | January 28, 2011 3:50 PM | Report abuse

What about the fact that young people work for less, don't demand health care and pensions, and won't stand up to the boss?

I ask, what happens when the boomers die out? Won't there be more jobs than workers? Right now we have a large population, the boomers, with a limited supply of jobs. Say 100 million boomers, 75 million jobs. But the next generation of people, gen x, there are only 60 million of them. But won't there still be the 75 million jobs available? But now those jobs are available to 100 million people. So eventually wont the job market stabilize?

I feel sorry for those people out of work. But I blame them and their children. They never stood up and said no when their health care premiums were going up 50% a year, when their factory was shutting down and going to Mexico, when their pension was bring embezzled, etc. People need to fight back. What made it worse was that this was happening to their neighbor and they just quietly ignored the problem. And now it's happening to them. But it's too late.

Posted by: Flopmeister | January 28, 2011 9:07 PM | Report abuse

Eventually, the unemployment rate in this country will come down. But it's very likely that there'll still be a core of a couple of million hardcore unemployed -- people who're a bit older, who're underwater on their houses in an area with a weak labor market, and who are becoming less employable as both their age and their time out of work come to seem more and more glaring on their resumes. What are we going to do for them?
==========
I am one in this group.

Perhaps I should think about setting myself on fire in say Washington, D.C. when I run out of money to get the attention of the politicians?

This approach seems to have worked in Tunisa where it sparked (pun) a new government!

BTW: Is the contraction "who're" actually included in WAPO's acceptable grammar guide????

Posted by: JackJo | January 29, 2011 12:28 AM | Report abuse

Obama's job promise:
http://www.gocomics.com/tedrall/2011/01/20/

Posted by: JackJo | January 29, 2011 3:34 AM | Report abuse

Earlier posters have mentioned this, but it bears repeating. The chart is a piece of crap. It makes no sense. It is foolish to base a column on these data. Either Ezra Klein or his editors should never have allowed this to happen.

Posted by: badakbuddy | January 29, 2011 11:15 AM | Report abuse

@Flopmeister:

"Say 100 million boomers, 75 million jobs. But the next generation of people, gen x, there are only 60 million of them. But won't there still be the 75 million jobs available?"

No. No there will not. Think of how many of those are service jobs. If you have 100 million people and 1 million consultants, and then some years down the line you have 40% fewer people, those consultants will compete for clients and some will go out of business or retire. Teachers, doctors, bankers - their numbers depend on the number of people they serve. Jobs are NOT static.

Posted by: Traipser | January 29, 2011 12:51 PM | Report abuse

For those worried about the numbers in the graph, stop calling it full of crap. The graph shows the percent of people in each age group who were unemployed for more than a year on each of three dates (or months). Thus it makes no difference that some groupings have more people in them; and nothing added across groupings needs to total 100%. Admittedly, the graph is not very clear about this.

Posted by: BeckleyLawyer1 | January 29, 2011 4:08 PM | Report abuse

For those worried about the numbers in the graph, stop calling it full of crap. The graph shows the percent of people in each age group who were unemployed for more than a year on each of three dates (or months). Thus it makes no difference that some groupings have more people in them; and nothing added across groupings needs to total 100%. Admittedly, the graph is not very clear about this.

Posted by: BeckleyLawyer1 | January 29, 2011 4:09 PM | Report abuse

I should also add that this graph makes it clear that a lot of unlawful age discrimination is going on. There should be a lot of EEOC and state human rights complaints by those over 50 who are losing out on jobs to less qualified younger people. Employers should be thinking twice about these issues. I predict a lot of unhappy employers in the future. "Overqualified" is not a defense to age discrimination.

Posted by: BeckleyLawyer1 | January 29, 2011 4:19 PM | Report abuse

At first read, I noticed that this description is consistent with what I have seen in job networking groups. Most job seekers attending are over 45 and are articulate, proactive and helpful to others - likely to be good employees. Even so, many have been out of work for a year or more. I, myself, am 46 and have finally found employment after 11 months of looking.

Then, I read through the Pew report and it seems there is more to the story than what is represented in the graph shown. The number of those unemployed for over a year as a percentage of the total labor force in that age group is very similar for all ages. It is because the total unemployment (of any length of time) is lower for older workers that the % that are out long-term is larger.

Does this necessarily mean that there are more difficult-to-employ workers among the older crowd or is there always a portion of the unemployed that are going to have a difficult time finding the right fit for various reasons? Personally, I think understanding the causes for unemployment warrants a more thorough investigation and analysis. Many want something to be done to lower unemployment, but more detail is needed to be able to come up with effective strategies to reduce it.

Posted by: live2learn | January 29, 2011 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Beck, for helping me to a better understanding of this graph. I grant that nothing added across groupings needs to total 100%. I’ll quibble and say that by arbitrarily defining each age group the graph-makers are going to come up with biased unemployed percentages. But my continuing complaint is that a good graph should portray the underlying data clearly and concisely with the objective of illustrating a point, and this graph doesn’t do that. It is confusing. Readers should not have to spend a lot of time trying to figure it out, and they definitely shouldn’t be required to pore over the original data.

Posted by: badakbuddy | January 29, 2011 9:28 PM | Report abuse

Was it really all that long ago that older Americans ARE (were) something to be admired? That AARP was not a crutch but a catalyst? We were not all arthritic, past our prime, ready for pasture the day we retired. Aging Americans finishing their careers with grace and enthusiastically looking forward to retirement. Having a window to look back on a career or body of work to do the things the daily grind put off and another window, probably 5-10 years down the road to look forward to grandchildren, a hobby that had evolved to fruition, and maybe a move to a better climate and smaller home. To a quieter, less busy environment. Time to truly revel in each day, to embrace and accept that we'd done our fair share of heavy-lifting but there was no going back. No do-overs. We could volunteer, get involved in charity work, and be considered wise and honorable.

Will the circle be unbroken? Yes. Those of us who had that trajectory, those windows through which to pass, have become the carts before the horses. We've been snow-ploughed into each other and rushed prematurely and now bump into those who retired voluntarily, with a plan, their first window. We're acceptable to them but a far, far cry from assimilation. We're not ready, we didn't get the chance to retire or finish our work with grace and dignity.

At 60, I'm ashamed to say I'm "retired." No one says "Congratulations!" The last few years have aged me terribly. Whatever optimism I had is long gone. Gone with my last UI check almost one year ago. Forty-four years of paying my share and there's no share left. Just shame. Crude, dismissive and elitist scoldings added to the cold and disinterested government avoidance of the unemployed. The drama of dislocation and disenfranchisement is quite real. We are hardly younger people whose bodies of work, though earned and necessary in their lives, were halted. Forty and fifty year olds don't have the flexibility - financial, emotional, relocating, and educational, e.g. - that younger people do, although theirs is no disgrace or very promising, either.

The sanctimonious and impious in Washington have left us like road kill: It's our fault for getting hit and clean up that mess yourselves. Look what you're doing to the view. Each day brings another insult, another cataract of cash going overseas or to the streets of bankers and the stock market. No news is never good news for the unemployed. We are politically expendable and financially dismissable. Others say things are turning around, hang in there, and urged to believe from people who have never been here and never will. Time takes time, they say. But a check can be cut overnight for something large or taxes can be cut with a signature and those beneficiaries are not the people I want living out what remains of MY time on Earth. I wanted to finish my career. I earned my benefits if the worst ever happened to me. It's unconscionable that many millions of Americans, like me, can only write about it.

Posted by: kickoradell | January 31, 2011 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Was it really all that long ago that older Americans ARE (were) something to be admired? That AARP was not a crutch but a catalyst? We were not all arthritic, past our prime, ready for pasture the day we retired. Aging Americans finishing their careers with grace and enthusiastically looking forward to retirement. Having a window to look back on a career or body of work to do the things the daily grind put off and another window, probably 5-10 years down the road to look forward to grandchildren, a hobby that had evolved to fruition, and maybe a move to a better climate and smaller home. To a quieter, less busy environment. Time to truly revel in each day, to embrace and accept that we'd done our fair share of heavy-lifting but there was no going back. No do-overs. We could volunteer, get involved in charity work, and be considered wise and honorable.

Will the circle be unbroken? Yes. Those of us who had that trajectory, those windows through which to pass, have become the carts before the horses. We've been snow-ploughed into each other and rushed prematurely and now bump into those who retired voluntarily, with a plan, their first window. We're acceptable to them but a far, far cry from assimilation. We're not ready, we didn't get the chance to retire or finish our work with grace and dignity.

At 60, I'm ashamed to say I'm "retired." No one says "Congratulations!" The last few years have aged me terribly. Whatever optimism I had is long gone. Gone with my last UI check almost one year ago. Forty-four years of paying my share and there's no share left. Just shame. Crude, dismissive and elitist scoldings added to the cold and disinterested government avoidance of the unemployed. The drama of dislocation and disenfranchisement is quite real. We are hardly younger people whose bodies of work, though earned and necessary in their lives, were halted. Forty and fifty year olds don't have the flexibility - financial, emotional, relocating, and educational, e.g. - that younger people do, although theirs is no disgrace or very promising, either.

The sanctimonious and impious in Washington have left us like road kill: It's our fault for getting hit and clean up that mess yourselves. Look what you're doing to the view. Each day brings another insult, another cataract of cash going overseas or to the streets of bankers and the stock market. No news is never good news for the unemployed. We are politically expendable and financially dismissable. Others say things are turning around, hang in there, and urged to believe from people who have never been here and never will. Time takes time, they say. But a check can be cut overnight for something large or taxes can be cut with a signature and those beneficiaries are not the people I want living out what remains of MY time on Earth. I wanted to finish my career. I earned my benefits if the worst ever happened to me. It's unconscionable that many millions of Americans, like me, can only write about it.

Posted by: kickoradell | January 31, 2011 10:07 AM | Report abuse

I have so many good friends, well educated, with over 30 years of job experience who are unemployed, and probably will never find economic rewarding employment. There families are destitute, their house and savings are depleted, no health care, and no future. There American dream is gone.

Without meager social security and Medicare, they would have no life.
Some live in older RV!s, off the road and sometimes in a RV park. Their health care is a visit to the ER, paid for by all of us. They have lost their pride. Many of their college educated children are without employment.

Once a large group of Americans loose hope, the chance for violence is increased. We are not absent from a rising tide of people without hope, seeking a chance and maybe revenge.

Everyresident has some concern over an uprising of the people. Hopefully, it will never happen in America, but everyone needs a life line for the future.

Hatred and bigotry in America, is no different from hatred and bigotry anywhere in the world. You can live in a gate guarded community, but you have to come out.

We need to come together as a nation, or otherwise we will come apart. The ash can of history for great nations, has no bottom.

Posted by: COWENS99 | January 31, 2011 10:53 PM | Report abuse

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