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If You’re Young and Unemployed, You’re Luckier Thank You Think

In times of economic downturn, young people often bemoan their job prospects: The ranks of the unemployed swell with people slightly older, more experienced and increasingly willing to work for less money as their time spent unemployed drags on. But for all the difficultly recent graduates have finding jobs in this economy, older unemployed workers have it far worse, as a new AARP study shows.

An analysis of unemployment data from January 2000 to December 2009 shows that the number of unemployed Americans 55 and older increased by more than 331 percent last decade. Importantly, the analysis uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which does not count people as unemployed if they are retired or if they have ceased to look for work. That means that the more than 2 million Americans over the age of 55 who are unemployed are not retirees – they are people actively looking for work but unable to find any.

The statistics for unemployment duration are even worse for older Americans.

Average duration of unemployment for workers age 55+ increased from 18.7 weeks in January, 2000 to 34.7 weeks in December, 2009—a jump of 85.6%. Over the same time period, workers age 65+ saw their situation go from bad (24.8 weeks of unemployment) to worse (32.9 weeks), an increase of 32.7%.

That means that older workers spend on average three years seeking new employment before they either find any or give up trying. The U.S. government classifies anyone spending longer than 6 months unemployed as “long-term unemployed” because it is at six months that regular unemployment benefits end. The current series of federal extensions to unemployment allow up to 53 weeks (slightly more than a year) of further unemployment benefits. But the statistics show that even before the Bush recession, unemployed Americans over the age of 55 would spend a year beyond receiving benefits seeking new work before finding it and giving up; in the current economic climate, they will max out their benefits in 18 months and spend almost an additional 18 months with no unemployment looking for a job before they’re successful or decide to throw in the towel.

Presumably, these are facts that Senator Jon Kyl either didn’t have or didn’t care about before he declared that unemployment benefits keep people from seeking work. Plenty of Americans keep trying to find work once their benefits are exhausted, even some at Kyl’s advanced age of 68. Of course, unlike Kyl, many of those people his age who need to find work won’t be collecting a cushy Senate pension worth around $60,000 a year (for a senator like Kyl with more than 20 years in Congress).

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