Fed up with the lack of hiring or just plain unlucky, a disproportionate number of older Americans either lost a job or checked out of the workforce in April. That’s the grim conclusion you reach when you parse through the federal government’s April jobs report, released last week.
Workers age 55-plus account for only about one-fifth of the labor force. Yet last month they lost almost as many jobs (102,000) as workers ages 25 to 54 (139,000).
To add to that unwelcome news, of the 342,000 people who exited the labor force last month, nearly half were 55 or older, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Without the exodus of young and old, the jobless rate would’ve ticked up from 8.2 percent in March to 8.3 percent in April, says Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. Instead, with so many people no longer being counted as unemployed, it declined to 8.1 percent.
AARP strategic adviser Sara Rix says that older workers have particular challenges when it comes to landing a job. Because they’re out of work far longer than younger adults (a year on average), some employers may be reluctant to hire them. Older job seekers also complain that they face age discrimination among hiring officials.
Given the environment, it’s no surprise that the number of discouraged older workers—people so frustrated with trying to find work that they just gave up looking—grew from 256,000 in March to 315,000 in April. To put that in perspective, there were just 53,000 discouraged older workers at the beginning of the recession in December 2007.
U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in a statement that private sector jobs increased by about 207,000 during the last four months. Overall, there were about 3.7 job seekers for every job opening.
Shierholz says the economy needs to create 350,000 jobs each month to get back to pre-recession unemployment levels in three years. “We have a huge pool of missing workers who left or never re-entered the workforce because of weak job opportunities,” Shierholz says. “This is not an environment that draws people in.”