The job market has changed, too. Older unemployed workers are more likely to have been laid off from industries experiencing structural shifts, like manufacturing. And even just the idea of submitting a resume by email may be unfamiliar to some. That means older workers may need extra training and resources to land their next job in growth industries.
If and when they do find new work, the wages often aren’t what they used to be. Research suggests older workers are more likely than younger workers to earn less than they did in their previous job, and that older workers who become reemployed may be moving into low-skill, low-pay jobs traditionally filled by youth.
Compounding these obstacles, evidence shows that employers are explicitly excluding the unemployed from hiring consideration. Because this kind of discrimination is more likely to affect those who have been out of work for the longest amount of time, older workers are the most likely victims.
These trends don’t just impact individual workers, either. As the population ages, so does the labor force. Workers age 50 and older make up 32 percent of the workforce, and that is projected to increase to over 35 percent by 2020. If long-term unemployment among older workers stays elevated, pressure will increase on an already overburdened Social Security system and other safety net programs.
That means policymakers need to develop new ways to help older unemployed workers find their way back to good employment and financial self-sufficiency. As part of that, Congress should take note of the 14 states considering legislation that would ban hiring discrimination against the unemployed and immediately pass the federal version, the Fair Employment Opportunity Act.
Unemployed workers continue to face stiff competition for jobs. This legislation would create a level playing field for all unemployed job seekers by prohibiting employers and employment agencies from excluding job applicants solely because they’re unemployed. The legislation would do nothing to alter an employer’s right to select the candidate with the most relevant or the most recent experience.