Study: Adults 55 And Older Face Higher Unemployment Rates Than Mid-Career Workers

Published: Friday, October 30, 2020 - 9:03am
Updated: Monday, February 22, 2021 - 1:13pm
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Coverage of aging is supported in part by AARP Arizona

COVID-19 has exposed the role ageism plays in our society. And it’s not just the very old that it’s hurting. A study has found that people 55 and up now face higher unemployment rates than mid-career workers.

The study, which examined unemployment since the start of the pandemic, was conducted by the New York-based New School. It found that for the first time since the 1970s, older workers are facing higher unemployment rates than mid-career workers, people ages 34-to-54. One reason is a lack of seniority.

"And so when you have a greater union presence, you have more seniority rules," said Dennis Hoffman with ASU’s WP Carey School of Business.

Hoffman said there are very few unions in the labor market now versus in the '70s. But why now and not in the last recession so much?

"Well, that was a different recession," he said. "And you had mostly younger workers working in construction jobs, and as those jobs vanished, the separations came with young workers, not necessarily older workers."

The pandemic, of course, exacerbates all of this, he says.

The study also found that older workers are slower to get rehired. Kevin Prindiville is with the national organization Justice in Aging. He says from the start, you see how ageism reflected in the way our society responded to the COVID crisis: that it primarily impacted older people.

And he says ageism is playing out in the workforce. But there are consequences.

"The impact of when older people lose their jobs, it leads to downward mobility, and increases instances of poverty."

Prindiville says it's important for older workers to remain in the workforce.

"From 50 and beyond are moments when our current system assumes that people are going to be rising in their career, and are going to be having some of their best earning years," he explained. "The reality for many Americans is that's not the case. And our systems aren't built to then help support them through a healthy and successful later life."

The study included policy recommendations such as lowering Medicare eligibility to 50 and expanding Social Security benefits.

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