Recession Shortens Lifespans Of Older Workers Who Lose Their Jobs

older workers health

Despite a slight drop in the unemployment rate among older workers last month, many are finding that it still takes a long time to find work after being laid off. The length of joblessness among workers 55 and older rose to 52.7 weeks in August, much higher than the 36.1 weeks for younger workers, the Labor Department reported earlier this month.

What's more, workers in their late 50s and early 60s who experience job loss during a recession are likely to find that their health suffers, says a new study by researchers at Wellesley College.


Older workers who become unemployed amid an economic downturn in some cases may see their life expectancy cut by as much as three years, according to the study, "Recessions, Older Workers and Longevity: How Long Are Recessions Good For Your Health?"

Other findings from the study showed:

  • A labor market downturn results in a 10 percent increase in the number of older workers who won't survive through age 79.
  • The negative effects of job loss, lost income, and loss of health coverage and access to health care are long lasting, and likely contribute to reduced life expectancy.

Still, the study did find a silver lining. Social Security and Medicare benefits can help stem the negative effects:

  • Workers who've already hit age 62, and thus are eligible for Social Security, aren't affected, presumably because of the safety net provided by that benefit.
  • Medicare also helps because any loss or reduction in health insurance associated with losing a job is eliminated at age 65, when seniors become eligible for Medicare.

Out-of-work seniors who derive some assurance from knowing that they can apply for Social Security benefits as early as age 62 could see that sense of security farther from reach should Mitt Romney become president. The Republican candidate has proposed incrementally raising the age at which seniors can apply for benefits as a way to reduce costs and extend the life of the program.

When it comes to Medicare, it isn't clear whether the Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama two years ago, or a proposal put forth by Romney's running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, to turn Medicare into a voucher program will affect out-of-work seniors' feelings about the program.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, both Obama and Romney seek major changes to Medicare to rein in runaway costs, which threaten to consume 20 percent of federal revenues by 2022. But only time will tell if such changes would affect older workers' confidence in the plan.

More:How To Get A Job If You're Over 50

Though August's employment data showed a slight improvement in older workers' ability to find jobs, a separate report released last month by the Labor Department revealed the devastating effects that the Great Recession has had on older workers.

Of the 2.5 million workers aged 55 to 64 who became unemployed in 2009 through 2011, slightly less than half were working again in January, according to the agency's latest worker displacement survey.

Nearly 13 million Americans were displaced from their jobs during the three-year period that started in 2009, The Huffington Post reports, citing data from the AARP Public Policy Institute.

Older workers accounted for 20 percent of displaced workers but comprised just 15 percent of those who became re-employed. Moreover, AARP's data showed that less than a quarter of those aged 65 and up who lost their jobs found jobs by January, while 61 percent of laid-off workers aged 25 to 54 had found new jobs in that time.

Institute spokesman Sara Rix said the data were troubling, noting that older workers who can't find work are much more likely than their younger counterparts to simply drop out of the labor force.

"Coupled with rising health care costs, a volatile stock market, and the sharp decline in housing values in recent years," Rix told The Huffington Post, "these developments point to a precarious financial situation for older Americans."

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