Unemployment Rises for Older Workers

April was another disappointing month for older workers: the unemployment rate for people 55-plus rose one-tenth of 1 percent to 6.3 percent, the government reported Friday.

In fact, it was the third straight month that joblessness rose for older workers, from 5.9 percent in February and 6.2 percent in March.

The situation for older men remained the same-the rate hovered at 6.3 percent in April, same as in March. But that was a big jump from 5.7 percent in February.

Women, however, did a bit better last month as their jobless rate dropped to 5.8 percent, down from 5.9 percent in March and 6.1 percent in February.

Still, older workers had a lower jobless rate than workers in general. For April, the national unemployment rate dipped slightly to 8.1 percent, the government reported. Employers added a disappointing 115,000 jobs.

Economists say it’s troubling that the economy is officially three years into the recovery and jobs growth hasn’t been strong enough to pull down the national unemployment rate more substantially. Last month, some 340,000 people dropped out of the labor force.

“The fact that the labor force participation rate continues to slide is largely due to the fact that, despite the labor market slowly getting stronger, it is still a very difficult environment for job seekers,” says economist Heidi Shierholz with the Economic Policy Institute. She says that many people who stopped looking for work won’t re-enter the labor force until job prospects improve.

For unemployed older workers, finding a  job continued to be more difficult in April than for younger people. The average length of time that older people had been seeking work increased to 60 weeks from 55.7 weeks as of the month before.

Job seekers under age 55 had been looking for 38.5 weeks, an increase from 37.3 weeks in March.

Of the long-term unemployed (people looking for work for six months or more), 56 percent were age 55 and up in April, up from 53 percent in March.

“Things just aren’t going very well for older workers,” says AARP senior strategic adviser Sara Rix. “We just can’t seem to make a significant dent in the unemployment situation for older workers.”

Though the overall jobless rate improved slightly in recent months, long-term joblessness has remained stubbornly high. Of the 13.3 million people who were without work in the first quarter of this year, 30 percent had been jobless for a year or more, according to a new report by Pew Charitable Trust.

The expected cost of jobless benefits for fiscal year 2012: a whopping $99 billion, the report said.

Bernard Baumohl, chief economist at the Economic Outlook Group in New Jersey, says the economy rebounded nicely between November and February but slowed in March and April as consumers pulled back on spending and hiring eased. For the rest of this year and into early 2013, he anticipates “danger and foreboding” as the financial situation in Europe deteriorates again and “paralysis” among lawmakers that prevents action to stimulate the recovery.

“We have this financial cliff that the United States is approaching in a presidential election year-the payroll tax cuts are expiring, the debt ceiling will be hit by the end of the year [and] cuts to government spending. If nothing is done, it means we’re facing recession by 2013,” Baumohl says.

In another sign the economy was losing steam, the number of planned layoffs by U.S. employers ticked up in April. A majority of those pending job cuts came from budget-squeezed school districts. According to the latest report by the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, employers said they planned to cut 40,559 jobs during the month, a 7 percent increase from the job cuts announced in March and an 11 percent hike from the same month a year ago.

The federal government sector also planned to shed about 3,100 jobs in April, the report said.