Baby Boomers: A ‘Gray Wave,’ Now Permanently Jobless

Friday, 04 May 2012 01:46 PM

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Who are the long-term unemployed? Increasingly, it’s baby boomers who have the bad luck of getting laid off and then find they are locked out of the work force, possibly for good.

A new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts throws a harsh light on the retirement prospects of millions of middle-income Americans. “In the first quarter of 2012, older workers were less likely to lose their jobs in the first place,” Pew researchers write in an update on the job crisis.

“But the data show that once they lost their jobs, older workers were more likely to have been jobless for a year or longer.”

Editor's Note: The Final Turning Predicted for America. See Proof.

The total number of “long-term” unemployed of all ages — people out of work for a year or more — is close to 30 percent, Pew found, nearly 4 million of the 13.3 million officially unemployed.

Yet the long-term jobless rate for people over 55 was well over triple that of people under 20 years of age. Among the older group, 44 percent had been jobless for more than a year, compared to 12 percent for the youngest segment.

Things are tough all over, for sure. “The percentage of jobless workers who had been unemployed for a year or more in the first quarter of 2012 was more than twice the rate it was at the beginning of the Great Recession (the first quarter of 2008) for all age groups,” Pew reported.

Since 2011, those numbers had begun to improve for many workers, but “for older workers, the long-term unemployment situation continued to worsen during the last year,” Pew researchers said.

Officially, unemployment now stands at 8.1 percent. The government’s definition of long-term unemployed, those out of a job for 27 weeks or more, is at 5.1 million, compared to 12.5 million total unemployed.

The broader U-6 measure, which attempts to capture everyone who has temporarily stopped looking or is working less hours than they would like, stands at 14.5 percent.

Part of the reason the headline rate is falling, despite meager job growth, is because the “labor participation rate,” the numbers of workers considered active, is falling as seniors clock out for good. The participation rate has declined steadily over the decade, from 66.7 percent in April 2002 to 63.6 percent now.

The rise in the aging unemployed raises difficult questions for the government, already facing a tide of red ink. If discouraged older workers opt for earlier retirements, they are more likely to apply early for Social Security benefits.

It could turn into a double whammy for the Treasury. Since the forcibly retired no longer work, they cease to contribute to the government retirement fund via their paychecks, and they no longer pay into Medicare, either. The financial weight increases on the smaller numbers of young workers, who also struggle to find work.

While official Washington talks about the declining headline rate, the number-crunchers behind the scenes nevertheless shifted their data collection in early 2011 to ask people to detail their length of joblessness over a much broader time period.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) used to label anyone who had been unemployed for longer than two years as simply “two years.”

Starting in January 2011, BLS began to ask about durations of up to five years. The shift in reporting did not affect the total numbers of unemployed, but did shift higher the median, or average, duration of reported unemployment.

“There was an unprecedented rise in the number of persons with very long durations of unemployment during the recent labor market downturn,” BLS researchers explain in a note.

“Nearly 11 percent of unemployed persons had been looking for work for about two years or more in the fourth quarter of 2010. Because of this increase, BLS and the Census Bureau updated the Current Population Survey instrument to accept reported unemployment durations of up to five years.”

Editor's Note: The Final Turning Predicted for America. See Proof.


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