The average unemployment rate is down. But it is up for older workers. Today’s jobs report from the Department of Labor reports an unemployment rate of 3.7% for workers over 55 in January, up from 3.2% last month, an increase of 0.5 percentage points. The overall unemployment rate went down by 0.1 percentage points from 5.0% to 4.9%.
Last month, we reported that unemployed older workers took longer to find a new job than younger workers. Drilling down to the different experiences of men and women, we find that that the long-term unemployment rate - defined as being unemployed more than 27 weeks - increased faster for older women.
In 2007, before the recession, a larger share of jobless men ages 55 to 64 (26%) were long-term unemployed than jobless women of the same age (21%). By 2015, well into the recovery, 37% of unemployed men and 35% of unemployed women were long-term unemployed. The share of unemployed women who are long-term unemployed increased 14 percentage points compared to an increase of 11 percentage points for men. For comparison, in 2015, 22% of unemployed 20- to 24-year-olds were unemployed long term.
Other studies confirm that older women face a harsh labor market. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that older, college-educated women face more discrimination finding work than both younger women and older men. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis also found that after the Great Recession, older job seekers, especially women, were hit hardest and longest by both unemployment.
It’s no surprise that long-term unemployment decreases bargaining power by increasing a worker’s willingness to accept a less desirable job. Older women nearing retirement already experienced a lifetime of wage disparity that makes it harder to adequately save for retirement during their working years. For women ages 50-64 without enough retirement income, cutting Social Security by raising the retirement age makes the situation worse. They will be forced to work or look for work longer in a labor market characterized by both age and sex discrimination.
Rather, we need to provide Americans with an adequate, secure income in old age. This will level the labor market playing field, allowing all older Americans to choose between retiring with dignity and taking the time to look for decent jobs that best match their skills. Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs)are one means of achieving this goal.