Jobs Report: When Will Things Get Better For Older Workers Who've Lost Their Jobs?

When Will Things Get Better For Older Workers Who've Lost Their Jobs?

Tom Magnone of Liberty Township, Ohio, has kept a precise record of his search for work since he lost his information technology position in 2009. An Excel spreadsheet that he has updated since Oct. 15 of that year shows that he has applied for 920 jobs.

Columns in the spreadsheet indicate what position Magnone sought, whom he contacted and how it turned out. Most of the "Outcome" column is left blank, except for a few entries with the comments "rejected" or "not qualified." A few have the notation "setting up interview."

Magnone, 60, keeps a separate spreadsheet for tracking his interviews. It has just 44 rows. Some notes indicate an interview went well, others that it went badly. An entry from 2010 states, "Probably not a good fit; don't hold out any hope."

It's obvious to Magnone -- and almost any unemployed person older than 55 -- why it's so difficult to find work.

"You can't prove this, but there's so much age discrimination, it's unbelievable," Magnone said. "Unless there's some incentive other than just hiring an experienced person, there's really no incentive to hire these kind of people."

The unemployment rate for workers older than 55 held steady at 5.9 percent in February, lower than the level for all of last year and also below the overall rate of 8.3 percent. But the average jobless spell for workers older than 55 is the longest of any age group. In February, the average older worker had been unemployed for 54.1 weeks, down a tad from from 56.1 weeks in January but still more than the 52.2 weeks mark in December. For the population as a whole, the average unemployment spell is 40 weeks.

Even before the Great Recession, older workers were more likely than younger ones to be unemployed for six months or longer, but their prospects have worsened. While roughly a quarter of older jobless people passed the six-month mark in 2007, in 2011 more than half did, according to new report by the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group. And for 2011, 4 in 10 older workers were unemployed for a full year, which is still the case, according to the latest data for February.

Job ads starkly reveal discrimination by employment status, with wording specifying that applicants must be currently employed. "Because this kind of discrimination is more likely to affect those who have been out of work for the longest amount of time, older workers are more likely to be its victims," the National Employment Law Project report states.

Magnone, who lives with his wife and their grown son, said he has so little hope of finding work that he has applied for disability benefits. He is unable to do physical labor because of a circulatory condition that severely restricts his stamina, he said. The Social Security Administration has already turned him down and he is now appealing that decision.

"The bottom line is that my 30-plus years in the information technology world, my PMP certification, my attending job-enhancement training has been to no avail," Magnone said in an email, referring to his project management professional training. "My thinking is that landing a job might be a pipe dream. Something really needs to be done to help the long term, older unemployed."

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