Unemployment for Americans 55 and older surged 331 percent over the past decade, according to a new analysis by the AARP Public Policy Institute.
"The data clearly shows that older workers have faced a devastating rise in unemployment, with far-reaching implications not only for their employment status but also for their health and retirement security," said AARP spokeswoman Mary Liz Burns. Burns added that unemployment puts a particularly tough squeeze on middle-aged folks -- who often have to provide for kids moving back home after college and elderly parents.
According to AARP, from January 2000 through December 2009, the total number of unemployed individuals 55 and older rose from 490,000 to 2,114,000. The number of unemployed 65 and up rose from 143,000 to 479,000. And the average duration of unemployment for people 55 and up increased 85.6 percent from 18.7 weeks to 34.7 weeks. For people older than 64, the duration went up almost a third, from 24.8 weeks to 32.9 weeks.
Age discrimination appears to be on the rise too. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the latest figures from the most recent fiscal year show 47,000 charges of age discrimination have been filed with the agency. "That's the largest number filed in any two-year period," said Burns. "It may be one of the factors in the high unemployment rate" for older workers.
This should come as no surprise to those 55 and up who've been looking for work. For the past year, HuffPost has interviewed dozens of unemployed folks over 55 and they all said the same thing: Employers discriminate against them.
"I think part of it is my age," said 55-year-old Kansas residentSteve Dittman last June. "I can't prove that but I think that's probably true. I was a business owner before. If you can hire someone in their 40s versus someone in their 50s, the person in their 40s is going to stay with you longer, and the person in their 50s is going to be more expensive because of health insurance. Everybody I've talked to who's in their 50s looking for a job, they're getting nowhere."
Ron Bednar, 64, told HuffPost that his efforts to find a job constantly hit the "gray wall." He and his wife, Mary McCurnin, of Rancho Cordova, Calif. divorced last year in order to stay together. The separation allowed McCurnin, also unemployed, to collect survivor's benefits from her previous husband who passed away and also gave the couple a tax advantage.
Christopher Hardin of Valdese, N.C., is so used to the gray wall that he's almost stopped wondering why it's there. In an interview with HuffPost last week, Hardin said, "Being 55, I haven't been able to find any work... I apply for jobs all the time. I don't get any return emails or phone calls."