Older workers who lose their jobs have the highest rate of long-term unemployment compared to any other age group. In 2011, more than half of jobless workers, ages 50 years and older, were out of work for more than six months. The trend continues this year.
Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), told the Senate Special Committee on Aging this afternoon:
“The prospects are dim for older workers who lose their jobs….They face pointed discrimination when they go looking for work, and they are especially vulnerable to financial instability. Congress needs to take extra steps to address the difficulties that some of the most seasoned members of the workforce are experiencing.”
A report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also found that long-term unemployment of older workers means significantly reduced retirement income, especially for those defined-contribution retirement plans such as 401(k) rather than traditional guaranteed defined-benefit pensions. In addition, older jobless workers are often forced to tap into those retirement savings.
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, said:
“Left unchecked, long-term unemployment among older workers is a problem that will continue to grow as our workforce grays.”
Kohl has introduced the Older Worker Opportunity Act, which would provide tax credits for businesses employing older workers with flexible work programs.
Employers and job search agencies claim they do not discriminate against older workers. But Sheila White, unemployed since she lost her job as manager of a women’s clothing store in January 2010, sent out hundreds of résumés and had 15 interviews. She told the panel she rarely received a response after the interview.
“It then occurred to me that a potential employee could look me up on the Internet and lo and behold there was my age, clearly printed for all to see! I sensed my inability to find work had something to do with age, but I couldn’t prove it. Many jobs required me to enter my date of birth to even complete my online application.”
Owens said that one tool to combat age discrimination is the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act that would preserve the rights of older job applicants and employees who are turned down for jobs or treated differently at work in part due to their age.
She also called for the passage of the Fair Employment Opportunity Act that would prohibit employers and job recruiters from excluding the unemployed from job consideration simply because of their unemployment status. In the past few years, many firms’ ads and websites state that jobless workers will not be considered. As Owens said:
“Because long-term unemployed workers are disproportionately older, older workers are more likely to be affected by exclusionary hiring practices based on employment status.”
Click here for the full testimony from all the witnesses.
This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on May 15, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.