Hiring Rebounds in June

Chart displaying June 2019 employment data

Employment Overview

The labor market rebounded in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) monthly Employment Situation Summary. The economy added 224,000 jobs, up significantly from the 72,000 jobs added in May (revised down from +75,000 jobs). The overall unemployment rate increased slightly to 3.7 percent and was also up for those ages 55+, rising from 2.7 to 3.0 percent. The number of people ages 55+ who were unemployed increased to 1.2 million.

The overall labor force participation rate edged up to 62.9 percent, and was up slightly to 40.0 percent for those ages 55+. In June, 29 percent of jobseekers ages 55 and older were long-term unemployed compared with 18.9 percent of those ages 16 to 54.

Spotlight: AI, Recruiting and Age Bias

This spring, the BLS reported a record number of job hires. With so many employers hiring, countless hiring managers and human resource professionals are competing for talent. Many are turning to technology to add efficiency to their recruiting process, better ensure successful hires – and, of course, save money. As part of that trend, many companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to leverage the massive amounts of data available about potential and current job applicants to manage administrative tasks in the staffing process and to target passive jobseekers. While some think that AI applications may help employers gain an edge in the competition for talent, AI also comes with its own set of challenges. One of the most serious is the potential for bias that can hurt older jobseekers.

Recruiting technologies, however sophisticated, still depend on humans, who can introduce bias either deliberately or unconsciously into the hiring process. Sometimes this bias is overt, as in the recent Facebook case in which employers sought to limit appearance of their job ads only to the Facebook pages of younger jobseekers. While Facebook – after settling multiple lawsuits – announced it would eliminate this practice, the incident nevertheless highlighted just how many employers are willing to use such blatantly discriminatory recruiting tactics.

That kind of conscious bias is troublesome enough. Yet further concerns about AI-based recruiting center around the problem of unconscious bias. Researchers now believe this type of bias is virtually universal. So while almost all of us, regardless of age, race, or gender, hold unconscious beliefs that influence both our actions and decisions, these biases are difficult to address because we are not even aware that we have them.

AI poses a risk for unconscious age bias to taint the recruiting process, and – some experts believe – even intensify it. That is because predictive technologies look for patterns in data to forecast outcomes—and when it comes to predicting which candidates might be the best match for a job, the type of data and the way it is used can both introduce bias. In other words, with humans being the source for supplying the AI recruitment technology’s data, bias comes into play.

“The reality is, algorithms learn from us – not only from the data we feed into them but from the preferences we reveal as we use them,” says Heather Tinsley-Fix, senior advisor at AARP, who frequently speaks to employer groups about AI in recruiting. “Even when we explicitly remove elements that could cause bias from the equation, algorithms will reflect patterns of existing inequities because those inequities are baked into the data in other ways.”

To mitigate the risk of bias, she and other experts recommend that employers use multiple methods to source job candidates, keep the hiring process “blind” as long as possible by removing demographic data from applicant profiles, and pay close attention to job descriptions and employer branding to make sure they are inclusive and attract a diverse pool of candidates.

Find more details on the latest employment data in the June Employment Data Digest, the AARP Public Policy Institute's monthly review of job trends for those ages 55 and over. For more data to drive policy solutions, check out AARP Data Explorer or learn more about skills, jobs, and occupations for the 50+.

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Jen Schramm is a senior strategic policy advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute. As part of the financial security team, she identifies policy challenges and opportunities related to workers ages 50 and above. Through research and analyses of emerging employment trends, she develops policy options to inform AARP’s strategy on work and jobs, including helping older workers find and retain jobs.

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