Older Worker Unemployment Soars Over a Decade

It now takes older workers 16 weeks longer to find work than in 2000


The 21st century has not been kind to older workers. The number of unemployed Americans age 55 and older has increased 331 percent between January 2000 and December 2009, according to a new AARP Public Policy Institute analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Unemployment increased by 235 percent for those age 65 and older.

[See Job Search Grows Cold, Creating Reluctant Retirees.]

Over the past 10 years the number of unemployed workers age 55 and older jumped from 490,000 in 2000 to 2,114,000 at the end of 2009. And 479,000 people continue to look for work after age 65, up from 143,000 people who were actively seeking jobs during the traditional retirement years at the beginning of the decade.

"Many older Americans are trying to reenter the workforce or stay employed longer for a variety of reasons,” says Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s executive vice president. “For millions of older workers, there is no other choice.”

[See 10 Reasons You Shouldn't Retire.]

It now takes older workers 16 weeks longer to find a new position than it did at the beginning of the decade. The average duration of unemployment for Americans age 55 and older is currently 35 weeks, up 86 percent from 19 weeks in 2000. Those age 65 and older, who generally spent 25 weeks unemployed in 2000, now typically spend 33 weeks job hunting before landing a new position.

[See Most Older Workers Have a Younger Boss.]

A Harris Interactive and CareerBuilder survey released this week asked workers age 60 and older who plan to delay retirement about their motivation for continuing to work. The top reason, given by 72 percent of the workers surveyed, was they simply couldn’t financially afford to retire. Almost equally important, however, was enjoying their job or where they work (71 percent). Other incentives for remaining in the workforce after age 60 include the need for health insurance or other benefits (50 percent), fear that retirement may be boring (24 percent), and enjoying feeling needed (15 percent).