"What a drag it is getting old(er)…"

by SixFigureStart | April 13, 2009

  • My Vault
If you're "of a certain age" in today's economy (and not Mick Jagger), beware. The New York Times features two articles today (here and here) -- both quite depressing -- on the plight of workers in the 40-something-and-older category who find themselves unemployed.

In the first -- a "discussion topic" thrown to various experts (and readers) for comment -- asks why employers "shun" older workers and opt for younger ones. We agree with the Times: The reasons are "blunt" and not a little insulting, even if the players are playing devil's advocate. Laurance Kotlikoff, a Boston University econ professor, argues (with a straight face) for paying older workers less by establishing an "age-productivity reference profile that employers can use to defend pay cuts." Another Boston-area authority (director of Boston College's Center for Retirement Research) says experienced workers are viewed as having job skills that are "too specific." Most of the arguments touch on the elevated cost of employing older staffers, as well as a perceived loss of productivity as the years go by.

The second article shows how all those ideas are playing out in the real world. Workers aged 45 and older were out of work an average of 22.2 weeks in 2008, compared to 16.2 weeks for younger unemployeds, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The Times goes on to say that although recessional layoffs have affected the younger set more significantly this time around, the unemployment rate for the older group is rising, and is at its highest point since at least 1948 (when the BLS began to collate such information). And the 22.2 week status is markedly higher than during previous economic declines in 1982 (19 weeks) and in 2001 (under 17 weeks). Some studies have shown an age-related bias in early rejection of potential job candidates; for interviewees, it's often obvious when they're being shown the door because of such prejudices. Unfortunately, one is rarely given a specific reason for being screened out, and unlike the equal employment guarantees in place for workers, there are no legal remedies for pre-hiring discrimination.

Is this your story? If you're in the early stages of your career, what do you think? Let us know!

--Posted by Todd Obolsky, Vault News & Commentary

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