Older workers are hit hard by long-term unemployment

Being unemployed when you're young is bad. Being unemployed when you're over 50 sucks.

New Statesman
An unemployed 63 year old tries a new career. Photograph: Getty Images

A new report [pdf] from Policy Exchange shows how hard over-50s are hit by long-term unemployment. Forty-three per cent of unemployed people over the age of 50 were long-term unemployed at the end of 2011, compared to 26 per cent for 18 to 24 year olds and 35 per cent for 25 to 49 year olds. In addition, fewer than 40 per cent of workers over 50 who were unemployed in the first quarter of 2010 had found work by the end of the year, compared to 63 per cent of young workers and 48 per cent of 25 to 49 year-olds:

The perils of long-term unemployment is also illustrated inadvertantly by another study Policy Exchange performed, described by Matthew Oakley at ToUChstone:

We conducted an experiment where we sent out job applications to both advertised and non-advertised positions. We applied to each position both as a younger worker and one in their 50s so that we could identify any discrimination according to age in the early stages of the recruitment process.

The researchers sent out CVs for bar work which showed four years of relevent experience but an age which was either 25 or 51, and also CVs for personal assistant jobs showing five years experience and an age of either 24 or 50. In each case, the younger worker got more responses; the younger CVs were 125 per cent more likely to get a response for bar work than the older ones.

Whether or not this shows age discrimination, as the authors claim, is more doubtful. The problem, of course, is that two candidates with identical CVs but different ages are not then identical candidates; one of them has spent 20 years either not working, or doing work not worth mentioning on a CV. That doesn't necessarily make them a worse candidate, but it does show why it is hard to come back from long-term unemployment. It is not enough to have experience; these days, that must be matched with an acceptable life story.

While the report is titled Understanding and Supporting Britain’s Older Workers, it's a bit of a misnomer: it's far more about Britain's older out-of-workers. Life may be tricky for the large numbers of young people out of work, but for the smaller number of older-people out of work, it can be even harder to climb out.