COLUMBIA — Last Friday the Labor Department's showed the U.S. added 195,000 jobs in June.
That “feel good” number belies the fact that 4.3 million Americans are still unemployed for six months or longer.
“Four years after the Great Recession has officially ended, the unemployment problem in the U.S. remains a national crisis, and especially for older workers over 50 — they are simply S.O.L.,” wrote Bud Meyers for the Daily Kos.
From the Bureau of Labor Statistics in March 2010: “The unemployment rate for persons aged 55 years and older has increased sharply since the beginning of the recession in December 2007.”
Many of the unemployed are over the age of 55. That is a lot of Americans who are highly qualified, experienced and most, if not all, are willing to take a lower-level position or a cut in pay.
To make matters worse, once an older worker is unemployed, he remains jobless for longer periods, from an average of 10 weeks in 2008 to 35 weeks in 2011.
Joe Carbone, president of Boston’s The WorkForce, told PBS’s NewsHour, “(Older Americans are) carrying a double whammy, not just the long-term unemployment, but they're 50 and older. It makes things that are bad even worse.”
Although age discrimination is illegal, it is easy to mask. Boston College economist Alicia Munnell told the NewsHour: “(Human Resource managers) said they worried about (the older worker’s) ability to learn new things, about their physical stamina and basically how long are they going to stay. And, so, it's — when you looked at the whole picture of their assessment of older workers, you really wouldn't go out of your way to hire one.”
What is the story about old dogs and new tricks? Many of our older Americans invented those tricks and can still invent more if given the chance. However, even with new training and updated skills, older Americans are still overlooked.
Boston’s unemployed Lee Bodzioch, 57, is trying not to be discouraged. He had been sending out resumes by the dozen and returned to Boston University to update his technical skills.
Yet “after two years of unemployment, phone calls from prospective employers are increasingly rare. He has had one interview in the last seven months.”
What happens to the older and experienced job seeker who is being turned down for employment time and time again? There is no safety net. Many have gone through their retirement accounts and are no longer eligible for unemployment benefits.
Many are on food stamps and are seeking assistance to keep the electricity on. Some have been forced to sell their homes at a substantial loss or risk foreclosure.
No health insurance, no funds to pay for a roof over one’s head, no expectations for work. Depression becomes a very real impediment to a continuing job search.
“Being unemployed is actually one of the most difficult, most devastating experiences that people go through," said Robert L. Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy told CNN.
The American Society for Suicide Prevention reports that, “In 2010, the highest suicide rate (18.6%) was among people 45 to 64 years old.”
Long-term unemployment leads to an increased risk of depression, which can manifest itself to suicide, according to the Suicide Research and Prevention Center.
The NewsHour reported on older American workers’ depression and suicide rates. “(W)hen the data show older (but not old) Americans out of work longer than others and older (but not old) Americans committing suicide at a higher rate than they have in almost a century, how can you help but wonder if the frustration of the former isn't contributing to the latter?”
The barrier of age is not a simple hurdle for older Americans looking for work but has become, for many, a seemingly insurmountable wall.
When older Americans fall out of the work force, the cost to society is more than simply the cost of additional unemployment insurance. That is if one qualifies for unemployment. One’s esteem is often tied to one’s career and when that career is cut short … .
Carbone’s closing words hit home. “We see a new population that are unemployable because of the length of their unemployment (and their age) … and we're just ignoring them, ignoring them.”
David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics.