The Takeaway: Number of Long-Term Unemployed Workers 55+ Rose Sharply Since 2007

new Government Accountability Office report says 55 percent of jobless older adults-or 1.1 million Americans 55 and older-have been unemployed for more than six months, up from 23 percent just four years ago. The report was addressed to the Senate Special Committee on Aging, which begins a hearing on older adults and unemployment issues today. Led by Sen. Herb Kohl, the Committee will investigate age discrimination in the workforce and ways to boost older workers’ job prospects.

Older workers fare better when it comes to unemployment rate and risk, but those who are unemployed have a harder time finding new work than younger counterparts, according to the GAO. And these unemployed near-retirees face a long-term threat from the impact of lost wages during  prime earning years. Reuters notes:

… these older workers rely on savings, miss out on potential wages and prematurely tap into Social Security – all at a time when Americans live longer and health care and other living costs are rising.

The impact of job loss and forced early retirement on older workers’ retirement income was significant. Those who had been part of a 401(k) or similar plan stood to lose more of their expected retirement income than those who had defined benefit pension plans or relied solely on Social Security, the report found.

A worker relying only on Social Security may see $30 to $60 less each month but face harsh consequences, GAO researchers said, because they have less savings to provide a cushion and may be laid off before they can claim the government benefit at age 62.

Refusing to hire someone because of age is illegal, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. The GAO found employers worry that older workers will leave positions quickly or that their health care costs will be too high.

Tuesday Quick Hits: 

  • This month, Socorrito Baez-Page and her parents will become the first family in the country to get a MEDCottage (aka the “granny pod“), a high-tech, prefab 12-by-24 foot unit that can be set up in a backyard. Such bedroom-bathroom-kitchen units can help keep aging relatives out of nursing homes, but local zoning rules can create barriers to their use in many places.
  • An older female comedic duo-Beryl Renwick, 86, and Betty Smith, 90-beat out some of the UK’s top comedians to win best entertainment program at the Sony Radio Academy Awards, the UK radio equivalent of the Oscars. “They give a voice to a sector of society unrepresented on radio and do it with a joy that puts many of their fellow broadcasters to shame,” the judges said.
  • And … younger workers wish they had more access to ‘defined benefit’ or guaranteed income, pension-style retirement plans, instead of just 401(k) accounts, according to a Hartford Financial Services Group poll.

Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters