Unemployment Hurting the Oldest and Youngest Workers

unemployment hurting the oldest and youngest workers
unemployment hurting the oldest and youngest workers

Many of you reached out to Daily Finance earlier this week after we ran a report on long-term unemployment's impact on older workers. Readers shared stories of careers terminated, benefits exhausted, and savings consumed. One couple spent their entire retirement fund trying to save their home, which they lost anyway. An out-of-work engineer wrote of his wife, who helps supplement their reverse mortgage, IRA and 401(k) by working part-time as a registered nurse for the maker of an injectable multiple sclerosis treatment.

No doubt today's news about slight improvements in the unemployment rate bring little relief. The Labor Department's monthly jobs report showed that American companies added 80,000 jobs in October, 10,000-15,000 shy of economists' expectations, and the smallest increase in four months. Overall, the unemployment rate fell to 9 percent from September's 9.1 percent -- the first improvement since July.

October's mediocre growth is barely enough to keep pace with population growth and twice as many jobs are needed to significantly lower the unemployment rate. Total payroll employment is now back to the level of July 2004, according to The Wall Street Journal's David M. Wessel. Still, of the 8.8 million jobs lost in the recession, only a quarter have been regained so far.

One Daily Finance reader, a midwesterner named Steve -- who asked that his last name not be used, since he's still looking for work -- said that unemployment figures from the federal government do not reflect the true depth of the problem.

"I know a lot of people who have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. Are they still part of the number?" Technically yes, if they're still looking, but the truth is that many have given up, as emails from other readers attest.

Steve's previous position was as an executive at a staffing company. "There have been few jobs at my level," he said. "Recently, two opportunities were filled with internal promotions." Now, fed up, he's thinking of starting his own business. Steve said his new venture would be in his old field, placing temporary workers. "That's an industry that's growing, because people don't want to hire full-time workers. The problem with starting a business is, it requires capital, and it's hard to borrow money today."

Steve summarized, grimly, "The over-50 group is just getting killed."

It undoubtedly seems that way to readers like Steve, many of whom face high out-of-pocket health care costs and perceive their age as an impediment to getting hired. But according to data compiled by NPR's Planet Money from this morning's report, in general terms the young have it worse: The unemployment rate for people 16 to 19 stands at 23.9%; for 20 to 24 year-olds, it's 13.4%. The figure for 25 to 34 year-olds is 9.3%, only slightly over the average, and all other age groups have unemployment rates below 7%. (There is, in fact, no difference between the rates for 45 to 55 year-olds and 55 to 64 year-olds.)

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Of course, it's likely that more older people, with lifetimes of toil behind them, have given up looking for work and are thus no longer counted among the unemployed. And, as the Pew Charitable Trusts reported earlier this week, long-term unemployment has impacted older workers more than younger ones.

CNN reports that roughly 13.9 million Americans remained unemployed in October, and another 2.6 million were counted as "marginally attached" to the workforce -- they "wanted and were available for work, and had looked for a job sometime in the last year, but were not counted in the unemployment figures because they weren't actively searching for a job in October." The so-called underemployment rate, which includes the marginally attached as well as part-time workers who want full-time positions, fell to 16.2%.

Overall, the report suggests that President Barack Obama will likely face voters with the highest unemployment rate of any post-war president. --The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article