Nearly Half Of Oldest Unemployed Have Been Jobless For Over A Year

For Baby Boomers who are out of a job, the picture isn't getting any brighter.

People age 55 and older are still the most likely to be part of the long-term unemployed, according to research released this week. The numbers point to a continuation of a trend that has persisted throughout the economic downturn: In a competitive, fast-changing job market, older applicants are finding their options especially limited.

More than 4.4 million people in the U.S. are among the long-term unemployed, meaning they've been looking for work for a year or more, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, which made its research available on Tuesday.

The long-term unemployed include people of all ages, but it's people 55 and older who might have it the worst. Over 43 percent of unemployed people in that age range -- some 923,000 people -- have been out of work a year or more. That's the highest rate of any age group.

Overall, nearly a third of all of the unemployed -- 31.8 percent -- have been jobless for more than a year.

Long-term unemployment has been a hallmark of the current slowdown. The percentage of Americans out of work for over six months not only reached a record high in 2010 -- it hit a level that was nearly double the previous record, according to CNN. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke singled out long-term unemployment when speaking to Congress last September, calling the unemployment situation, "a national crisis."

The problem has been compounded by an aspect of self-reinforcement because employers are less likely to hire a job applicant who's been out of work for a long time. And someone who's been out of work for a while may find their network of professional contacts shrinking, making it even harder for them to get a foot in the door.

Long-term unemployment has been linked to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. And its effects tend to resonate even for the people who eventually do find work. When long-term job seekers get hired, they earn an average of 20 percent less than they did in their last position, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Boomers have had a particularly hard time re-entering the workforce after an extended period without a job.

Evidence suggests that employers are more likely to hire a younger job applicant than an older one, perhaps assuming that the younger employee will be able to pick up new skills more quickly, or be willing to work for a smaller paycheck.

In 2009, The New York Times reported that some Boomers struggling with the job market were contemplating changing their resumes to appear less experienced, or dyeing their hair in order to look younger during interviews.