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Older Workers Unemployed Longer

Many out of work more than 10 months, despite signs of recovery

Despite signs that the recession is slowly easing up, new analysis by AARP's Public Policy Institute shows that older Americans are still finding it difficult to land work.

The average duration of unemployment for older job seekers in January hit a whopping 44 weeks — more than 10 months — up from 42.8 weeks in December. Workers under age 55 were jobless for 33.9 weeks on average as of January.

The AARP report notes that long-term unemployment for older workers has more than doubled since the beginning of the recession in late 2007 — it was 20.2 weeks in December that year.

Many analysts are speaking of a "jobless recovery" as the stock market, general economic activity and other measures trend upward. But employers continue to hold off on hiring, uncertain that the long-term outlook is good.

As of January, half of older unemployed workers were classified as long-term unemployed. "That is, they've been out of work for 27 or more weeks," says AARP senior strategic policy adviser Sara Rix.

With retirement financing increasingly dependent on personal savings, unemployed older workers are pressured to find jobs again.

"They need to work longer in order to replenish their savings, some of which were very adversely affected during the downturn," Rix says.

At a recent House Ways and Means Subcommittee hearing on unemployment, legislators debated how to best move forward.

"This is the only recession in 20 years when the unemployed are more likely to drop out of the workforce than to find a job," said Geoff Davis, (R-Ky.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Resources in a statement.

"This tells us our employment security programs are simply not working as intended," he said. "Instead of helping the unemployed become one of the 50 million new hires every year, the unemployed increasingly are being left behind."

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) argued in another statement that the problem is lack of work. "While our first priority must be pursuing policies that encourage job creation," he said," this subcommittee's responsibilities focus more on what to do in the meantime for the many Americans who, through no fault of their own, lose a job and have not been able to secure new employment."

Talia Schmidt is an intern at the AARP Bulletin.

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