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Unemployed Older Adults Encounter Age Discrimination

Ageism hampers the job search for unemployed older adults.

Unemployed adults react to their situation in different ways based on length of time out of work, according to a new AARP survey. But one factor affects nearly all unemployed older workers: age discrimination.

spinner image Contemplative Older Worker

The survey revealed that workers conduct their job search in different ways depending on how long they have been unemployed. For instance, 64% of those out of work for more than six months say they waited at least three weeks after becoming unemployed to look for work, compared to just 37% of those out of work less than six months. The top reasons for holding off on looking: concerns about working during the pandemic and few job opportunities due to COVID-19. Among short-term unemployed adults, 28% actually began job searches before becoming unemployed, and 37% started within one to two weeks. 

More than four in 10 respondents indicate the pandemic was a contributing factor in their most recent period of unemployment.

Older job seekers face their own set of barriers. About 40% age 45-plus and 62% of those age 55-plus report experiencing age discrimination in their search. Long-term unemployed adults — those out of work for more than six months — are significantly more likely than short-term unemployed adults to face skill-based and age-based barriers.

The survey found that short-term unemployed individuals are more apt to contact employers directly and tap into their personal networks of family and friends than those on the job market for more than six months.

Both groups indicate getting some training while unemployed, but their purposes differ somewhat. Short-term unemployed adults tend to use training to sharpen skills they already have, while long-term unemployed adults use training more to remain competitive in the job market or move into a new career.

More than half of unemployed older adults participated in training or education programs to upgrade their skills; however, just 53% of those short-term unemployed and 34% of those long-term unemployed say the training helped them find a job.

As for the COVID-19 factor, 66% of those unemployed during the pandemic found work, 26% remain unemployed, and 8% chose to retire. Most of those who gained employment landed in positions that were on par with their previous jobs.

Nearly one in five long-term unemployed respondents say they have given up looking for work. 

One-fourth (26%) of those who retired wish they had prepared better for unemployment. Most (78%) regret not saving more money, 41% wish they’d gone back to school, and 30% regret not keeping their skills up to date.

Most unemployed job seekers (86%) do not second guess their job search behaviors. Those who do have regrets say that next time they would be more aggressive in their job search or look for a job in a different occupation.


The survey was conducted online by NORC at the University of Chicago for AARP in the summer of 2022. It included 3,602 adults age 45 and older who experienced unemployment within the past five years. 

For more information, please contact Alicia R. Williams at For media inquiries, please contact External Relations at