It’s Not All Bad News for Older Workers

Here are some contradicting numbers to ponder. According to data from the Government Accountability Office, 55% of workers 55 and older have been unemployed for 27 weeks with 36% out of work for more than a year. On the other hand, between January 2012 and May 2012 this same age group accounted for nearly three million (or 69%) of total employment growth in the country.

Global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas has more statistics and analysis:

While a larger portion of older workers are experiencing prolonged unemployment, the overall unemployment rate for this group has seen improvement over the last two years, falling from 7.1% in May 2010 to a current level of 6.5%.

“The unemployment rate among older workers still has a ways to go before reaching pre-recession levels of about 3.0%, but the pace at which these job seekers are finding employment compared to younger ones suggests they could reach pre-recession jobless rates before anyone else,” said company CEO John A. Challenger.

“Older workers may be benefitting from a desire among employers to keep hiring to a minimum.  The economy is still only slowly recovering, so employers have repeatedly indicated that they are only adding workers when absolutely necessary.  In this environment, a seasoned candidate who brings a wide variety of skills and experience to the table is going to have an advantage over younger candidates.  For employers, one experienced candidate is worth two or three younger, greener candidates, in terms of the ability to make immediate and meaningful contributions to output and the bottom line,” said Challenger.

Belying the myth that older workers are finding only low-paying jobs in retail or other service-oriented industries, the latest employment statistics reveal that some of the biggest employment gains for those 55 and older have occurred among managers and professionals.  As of May 2012, there were 6.2 million Americans 55 and older employed in management, business and financial operations.  That is up 12% from 5.5 million in May 2010.  The number working in professional and related occupations has increased 10% from 6.8 million in May 2010 to nearly 7.5 million in May 2012.

Helping to drive the employment gains among experienced job seekers is the fact that a majority of companies recognize the value of having these workers on their payrolls.  In a 2011 survey of company executives and benefit administrators by Bank of America, about 94% said it is important to keep older workers due to their skills.  In order to attract and retain these workers, the survey found that companies are offering customized schedules, education on retirement and health care, and the ability to work from home.

More and more older workers are starting their own businesses.  The number of self-employed workers age 55 and older has grown 13% from 2.8 million in May 2010 to 3.2 million as of May 2012.  Most of the growth occurred among those 65 and older, whose ranks of self-employed increased from 820,000 two years ago to a record high of 1,030,000 as of May, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Indiana Chamber and BizVoice magazine took an in-depth look at older workers in a study and series of magazine articles