"We have to acknowledge the perceptions about older workers — that they're not desirable hires because they're generally viewed as biding their time to retirement, they're not as committed," says Jacquelyn James, director of research at the Sloan Center.
Older workers also face perceptions that they can't adjust to workplace changes as well as younger workers and are less knowledgeable about technology, James adds. She also cites a belief "that they can't work well with younger supervisors."
Many of these claims are unfounded, James says: "We know from our research that older workers are more resilient than younger workers and don't get rattled as easily. They're more likely to pay attention to positive than negative experiences, and they're more engaged than younger workers in the workplace."
Causes of long-term unemployment
The Boston College study found other causes of long-term unemployment among older workers:
Inefficient job search strategies such as relying primarily on newspaper classified ads and not using social networking websites like Facebook or Twitter.
Failure to take advantage of or to be offered education or training courses to update and improve skills.
A need by some job seekers, particularly blue-collar workers, for longer-term training programs to develop new skills.
The Boston College study found that 40 percent of older workers rated their situation as poor. Slightly more than half said they or their families had had to forgo medical care. Nearly one in three had more credit card debt than retirement savings.
Carlos L'Dera, 65, of Bakersfield, Calif., says that he took early Social Security benefits in October 2007, just after losing his job as an administrative assistant, to help pay his bills. Fortunately, he says, his wife works full time.
"I'm in forced retirement because I'm not able to find work, though I send out hundreds of résumés," he says. "I get very nice rejection letters, but the bottom line is, we're in a bad economy and I'm 65 years old. The market out there is not good."
Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.