Although the percentage of those considered "long-term unemployed" (27 or more weeks) is at its highest level since 1948, job seekers 55 and older are having the toughest time of all. According to a new study, possible culprits include not having the right skills and job search techniques.
In "The New Unemployables: Older Job Seekers Struggle to Find Work During the Great Recession," conducted by the Sloan Center for Aging and Work and the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, more than half (53.5 percent) of older workers have been long-term unemployed versus 41.5 percent of younger workers.
The study found that 84 percent of the older workers who were unemployed in August 2009 were still unemployed in March 2010. In addition, 67 percent of older workers in the survey had been looking for work for more than a year.
Findings are based on a national random sample of 900 unemployed Americans surveyed in August 2009 and interviewed again in March 2010.
Job search methods and training and education were two key differences between older and younger workers, according to the study. Older workers tend to use more traditional job search methods, while younger workers rely more on social and in-person networking. The most common Internet tool older workers used were online
company bulletin boards (56 percent), while younger job seekers used Facebook (51 percent).
In the area of training and education, 12 percent of older workers took training to sharpen job search or work skills, compared to 20 percent of younger workers.
"Older workers often have a training reservation," says Carl Van Horn, director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. Often very experienced, they're much more inclined to stay in the same career and learn what they need on the job, he says.
But the belief that older workers are not flexible or willing to take classes has not been proven, notes Van Horn. In fact, he says, older workers tell researchers that they are just as willing to learn new skills, explore different careers, and take pay cuts. "As the job search is prolonged, older workers are adapting attitudinally. We call this the 'recession effect,'" he says.
Employers can expect to see an increasing number of older job seekers and employees. Older workers now make up 19 percent of the workforce, up from 12 percent 10 years ago, according to the study. In 10 years, that percentage is expected to grow to 25 percent.
Van Horn says that older workers' proven track records, strong experience, and good work habits are major benefits for employers. "Employers need to think about how they are going to train them up and educate them to be successful."