For a second month in a row, American employers added a solid number of jobs to their payrolls, bringing the unemployment rate down to 8.8 percent, a two-year low. More than 216,000 positions were created amid other signs of slowly accelerating economic growth.
But it was a mixed picture for workers 55 and older. Women in that age group suffered a slight rise in joblessness to 5.8 percent from February's 5.7 percent level, preliminary figures showed. Men fared better, at 6.8 percent, down from 7.1 percent.
The higher rate among older women may be tied in part to continuing layoffs by cash-strapped local governments. More than 400,000 workers have lost their jobs in that sector since staffing peaked in September 2008. These included public school teachers and other jobs held disproportionately by women.
Once again, the monthly report, issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), showed that the hunt for work has been particularly challenging for older workers.
Their average duration of unemployment increased to 51.1 weeks as of March, up from the 46 weeks in the February survey. For people under 55, the duration rose to 37.8 weeks from 35.2 weeks in February.
Overall, 13.5 million people were out of work in March. Of those, about 46 percent had been jobless for six months or more. Among unemployed workers 55 and up, about 55 percent had been jobless for at least that long.
The number of discouraged workers age 55 and over — people who became so disappointed with their job prospects that they recently stopped looking for work — also rose, from 241,000 in February to 260,000 in March, according to Sara Rix, a strategic policy adviser at AARP.
No silver lining for older workers
"This is another mixed report, " she says. "The rate hasn't worsened but there was no substantial increase in employment. For those older folks who are unemployed, there doesn't appear to be a silver lining."
More than three years have passed since the economy collapsed in late 2007. While many signals point upward, the job gains of recent months are doing little to get people back to work in prerecession numbers.
As many as 8.4 million people were working part-time in March, about the same as the month before, in large part because they couldn't find full-time work, the government said.