Faith Reflection on the May Jobless Numbers and Older Workers

June 1, 2012

As people of faith, we continue to be concerned about our country’s slow economic recovery. With this month’s release of unemployment rates, we see yet another sign that while economists may say that the recession has ended, the reality of unemployment and under-employment remains true for millions of Americans—particularly those often left on the margins of the conversation about economic recovery.

The unemployment rate in the month of May increased slightly at 8.2%. While the total jobless number is 12.7 million, 69,000 jobs were created in May. Still there remains a startling 5.4 million who are long term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) — 42.8% of the unemployed population. Among specific worker groups the unemployment for adult men was 7.8%, adult women 7.4%, whites 7.4%, blacks 13.6%, Hispanics 11%, and Asians 5.2%.

While there seems to be steady recovery for certain subgroups of the worker population, specific groups, like older workers, continue to struggle to find work. Older workers are defined as 50 and older—a population that is rapidly increasing as Baby Boomers age. According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, “The unemployment rate for people aged 55 or older rose from 5.9 percent in February [2012] to 6.2 percent in March [2012]. At the start of the Great Recession in December 2007, the unemployment rate for this age group was only 3.2 percent. Nearly 2 million people aged 55 or older were unemployed in March.” Older workers are also an increasing percentage of the unemployed population, “Older jobseekers were 15.7 percent of the unemployed in March, a somewhat higher percentage than in February (14.7).”

Particularly concerning for this population is how long they remain unemployed. According to a March 2012 issue brief on older unemployed workers from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) , “Older unemployed workers were the most likely to be unemployed for one year or longer—about 4 in 10 (41.6%) jobless workers age 50 and older.” The AARP also found that the long-term unemployment rate among older workers only increased as the recession and recovery moved forward, “Average duration of unemployment for older jobseekers first exceeded one year in March 2011.”

Long-term unemployment opens this population up for a number of ongoing problems. In her May 15th testimony to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, NELP Executive Director Christine Owens stated, “Prolonged periods of unemployment may have a severe impact on older workers’ retirement prospects and later-life well-being generally. A national survey of workers who lost their jobs during the recession at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University found that a majority of respondents age 55 and older experienced a decline in savings while unemployed.” In addition, older workers have less time than younger workers to replace lost savings because they are closer to the traditional retirement age. Many people have ended up delaying retirement because their savings became so severely depleted. And still others found themselves in forced early retirement because they went so long without finding a job.

The AARP reports, “The long-term unemployed are at risk of skills erosion and weakening labor force attachment, which further undermine the probability that they will find work.” Older workers are more likely than younger workers to have been laid off from industries, like manufacturing, that had already been experiencing a decline prior to the recession and then worsened when the economic downfall hit. Those older workers will require new skills and training in order to transition into a new filed in order to find employment. Employment experts have also been tracking the serious issue of hiring discrimination, especially among older workers and the long-term unemployed. According to NELP, “Compounding the effects of a weak labor market on older workers, 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 more likely to be its victims.”

As we consider these monthly reflections of our economy’s health, we remind our elected officials that they must soon create and debate legislation that aims to create jobs and strengthen our economy without forgetting about those who are at greatest risk of impoverishment and hardship, including older workers. As scripture tells us, “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:11.

You can find DHN’s Jobs Statement of Principles at

American Friends Service Committee

Bread for the World

Church of the Brethren

Disciples Justice Action Network

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Interfaith Worker Justice

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Washington Office

National Advocacy Center Sisters of the Good Shepherd

National Council of Churches

National Council of Jewish Women

NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Office of Social Justice and Hunger; Christian Reformed Church in North America

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Office of Public Witness

Sisters of Mercy Institute Justice Team

Union for Reform Judaism

The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

The United Methodist Church-General Board of Church and Society

PDF of the Statement

Disciples Justice Action Network The Friends Committee on National Legslation Unitarian Universalist Association
Church of the BrethrenEvangelical Lutheran Church in AmericaOffice of Social Justice of the Christian Reformed Church