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Unemployment Rate for Older Adults Jumps to 13.6 Percent

Coronavirus outbreak takes a toll on workers 55 and older in April

A sheet of paper hangs on a glass window

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

A sign stating that job placement program called Work Force 1 is closed is seen on the door of the New York State unemployment offices.

En español | The unemployment rate for Americans 55 and older soared to 13.6 percent in April, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that shows the devastating impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the nation's workforce. More than 20.5 million people overall stopped working during the period the report covers.

The number of unemployed Americans 55 and older grew by more than 3.7 million during the period of the April report. The unemployment rate for those 55 and older was just 3.3 percent in March, showing how rapidly the workforce shed jobs as businesses shut down temporarily to deter the spread of the coronavirus.

"In a highly challenging economic climate, there's plenty of pain to go around for workers,” says Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate. “As we all know painfully well, the current situation is unprecedented in modern history."

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The overall unemployment rate for all workers leaped to 14.7 percent last month, up 10.3 percentage points since March, producing the largest one-month increase in the report's history. And, even as it sets a record, the increase does not fully measure how many workers lost their jobs in April. The BLS surveys employers in the middle of the month, which means the latter half of the month is not covered in the April report. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's weekly reports on first-time jobless claims, roughly 33.5 million people have filed new claims for unemployment during the seven weeks since the pandemic started.

The dramatically increasing unemployment rates could lead to long-term problems for older workers, both professionally and economically.

"When it comes time to cut costs, some employers zero in on senior staffers, seeing them as costly,” Hamrick says. “An unfortunate consequence of that [for older workers] is a forced reduction in income, unemployment for a prolonged period and damage to retirement savings. In some cases, older workers will not be able to return to the quality of compensation they enjoyed before. With a reduced pace of hiring, many will find it difficult to return to the employment rolls."

The career prospects for older adults may be uncertain for a while, according to WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez.

"After the crisis passes and older workers are able to return to the labor market, how many jobs will there be available for them?” Gonzalez says. “It's an answer no one really has yet."