Unemployed workers in their fifties are finding themselves in a difficult situation. They’re too young to retire but they may also be too old to be re-hired.
Researchers at BostonCollege say, call them the “new unemployables.”
According to an Urban Institute study published last year, workers in their fifties are about 20 percent less likely to get re-employed that workers aged 25 to 34.
Mary Matthews, 57, who has been unemployed or had temp jobs for the last 5 years said, “Once you leave the job market, trying to get back in it is a monster.” Employers rarely get back to her, and when they do she’s often told she is “overqualified” for the position. Sometimes she wonders: Is that just a euphemism for too old?
That’s a question on the minds of many older workers.
Take Jill Cummings, 55, who has thought about dying her gray hair in order to get a job. Then there’s Tony Kash, 50, who wonders why his 30 years experience in manufacturing and management is no match for 25-year-olds fresh out of college with business degrees.
The average duration of unemployment for workers ages 55 to 64 was 11 months as recently as January, according to the Labor Department. That’s three months longer than the average for 25- to 36-year-olds.
Given these circumstances, many workers can’t help but think age discrimination is a factor. AARP’s Public Policy Institute surveyed unemployed baby boomers in 2010 and 2011. While 71% blamed their unemployment on the bad economy, almost half also said they believed age discrimination was also at play.
Employers may also have other reasons for not employing the older generation of workers. Older workers are less likely to have the latest skills in education and technology. “When there’s a large supply of unemployed workers, employers can afford to be choosier, and they’re opting for workers they think are less expensive or more recently trained,” said Sara Rix, senior strategic policy advisor for AARP’s Public Policy Institute.
That’s a hard reality for older job-seekers. “When you’re at 55 or 60, you’ve had a lifetime of work. You’ve played by the rules, and the rug has been pulled out from under you,” Rix added.