Six years after the Great Recession ended, jobless older workers are the forgotten story of the economic recovery. U.S. employers are creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs every month, but millions of older workers who want a job cannot find work.
The economic data documenting the problem is clear. So is one of the most important causes: age discrimination.
Consider the government jobs report released late last week. On the surface, job growth look is looking solid – the national jobless rate in August was unchanged at 4.9 percent, and 151,000 new jobs were created. More than 270,000 new jobs were added in each of the previous two months.
The jobless rate for workers over 55 was even lower, at just 3.5 percent. But that figure is deceptive. If you add in workers holding part-time jobs who would rather be working full time, and unemployed workers who have recently given up on seeking work, the jobless rate for older workers last month was 8.7 percent, according to analysis of the government figures by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis (SCEPA) at the New School.
Further, if you add jobless workers who gave up looking after more than four weeks, the 55-plus unemployment rate is a whopping 12 percent, SCEPA analysis shows. Looked at another way, 2.5 million older Americans want a job but do not have one.
Age discrimination is illegal under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The law prohibits treating job applicants or employees who are over age 40 less favorably because of age. (The law applies to employers with 20 or more workers.) But most of the complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission focus on age-bias terminations rather than hiring – simply because hiring discrimination is so difficult to prove.
Yet two-thirds of older workers believe age discrimination occurs in the workplace, according to a 2013 survey by AARP. Older job seekers need much more time to find a job than older workers – 36 weeks in 2015, compared with 26 weeks for younger workers, SCEPA data shows.