The government reported a double dose of good news for the economy Friday: Employers added 192,000 jobs to their payrolls February and the jobless rate fell, with a 0.3 percent slide to 6.4 percent for older workers.
That's a bigger decline than the national unemployment rate, which dipped slightly to 8.9 percent last month, according a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate is the lowest since April 2009.
The improving jobs picture for women age 55 and up in February drove the unemployment rate down for all older workers: The women's rate slid from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent in February, while for men in that age group, the rate remained unchanged at 7.1 percent.
But the average duration of employment for older workers served as a gloomy reminder that the recovery remained weak — the duration increased as of February to 46 weeks from 44 weeks for the month before, the BLS reported. For those under 55, the duration rose to 35 weeks as of last month from 34 weeks for January.
Overall, nearly 14 million people were out of work in February. Of those, 44 percent had been jobless for at least six months. Among older workers, one in two had been out of work at least that long.
Sara Rix, a strategic policy adviser at AARP, says the length of time it is taking older people to find work continues to be worrisome.
"I'm very pessimistic," she says. "Those job seekers may never find employment. They may find it impossible to recover financially."
More than 8 million people were working part-time in February, largely because they couldn't find full-time work, the government said.
Of those, about 1.4 million were 55 and older, about the same number as in January. That's down from the peak last September, when nearly 10 million people worked part-time because they couldn't find full-time work.
According to a Gallup tracking survey on underemployment released on Friday, 20 percent of Americans were underemployed in 2010. Many have settled for jobs for which they are overqualified or underpaid.
Recovery gaining momentum >>