Economy
2:26 am
Wed September 28, 2011

Recession A Tougher Hit For The Middle-Aged

Originally published on Wed September 28, 2011 7:11 am

Joblessness can be particularly tough for those in middle age. The recession hit this age group hard, and they aren't getting rehired as quickly during the sluggish recovery.

Middle-aged workers face more financial demands than other age groups and are too young to retire, yet they also don't have as much time to work their way up again from the bottom rung like younger workers.

Networking For A New Job

During the Great Depression, a group called 40Plus was founded to help middle-aged professionals find jobs. Some seven decades later, the group's Washington chapter is experiencing a renaissance.

In a rented basement apartment, there's standing room only for about 40 attendees who have come for a lecture on using social networks to look for jobs.

Tamara Miller, 64, is among them. Miller is a rabbi who lost her job as a spiritual counselor at a hospital two years ago. With churches and synagogues strapped for funds, Miller can't find a job, but says she can't afford an early retirement, either.

"I couldn't get Social Security for another year or two, but even then, I couldn't retire," she says.

Miller says she needs the money. In the interim, she writes a blog to keep in touch with parishioners. She says that helps her get the spiritual support that she craves as she deals with joblessness.

"I think people, sometimes they feel lost. And their callings, you know, the thing they thought that that was their purpose in life has been taken away. And who are they without a title ... without a 9-to-5 job?" she asks.

Middle-Aged Financial Pressures

Middle-aged workers typically face more financial pressures, such as supporting a family and paying for their kids' educations.

Rich Morin, a senior editor at the Pew Research Center, says young people's job problems compound problems for jobless parents.

"They are having to welcome back their grown children, and that means people are retaining expenses and sharing resources for longer periods of time," Morin explains.

The unemployment rate for middle-aged people is less than the population overall, and far less than the rate for very young job seekers. But demographers and labor economists say the recession squeezed middle management, and that those positions are slow to come back.

Their experience doesn't necessarily work to their advantage; sometimes, it makes finding a match for their skills harder. Of the dozen or so middle-aged job seekers I interviewed around the country, many say ageism runs rampant.

Undervalued Experience?

A 52-year-old engineer who lost his government job 2 1/2 years ago says experience used to be valued.

"Now all of a sudden we're finding employers don't want us," he says. "Why is this happening? It's because we're older, and there's this false perception out there that we're no longer any good, and we're going to cost more money."

He says many employers believe middle-aged workers are technically obsolete, and that the bias toward hiring younger workers is strong.

Human resources professionals say there's no hard evidence for this youth bias. But they note that there are simply fewer leadership positions available, and the competition for them is fierce — which is why it may take older workers longer to find a good job.

It's taken three years for Elise Negrin to land an entry-level position, and she says she's long given up being choosy.

"I'm working at a nonprofit veterinary clinic. I'm seriously underemployed, and I actively seek work every single day," she says.

Negrin previously was chief operating officer for an auto finance company. Now, she's making $10 an hour. No longer able to afford living in Long Island, N.Y., she moved to Florida earlier this year to live with her best friend, who is unemployed.

Negrin says her response is to try to look younger than her 57 years, at least on paper. She's taking fancy titles off her resume, hoping to camouflage her age and experience.

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, Host:

Here in this country the tough economy has struck especially hard at people who lost their jobs in middle-age. They're too young to retire, but don't exactly have time to work their way up from the bottom. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI: A long time ago, during the Depression, a group called 40Plus was founded to help middle-aged professionals find jobs. Some seven decades later, the group's Washington chapter is experiencing a renaissance.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Good morning.

NOGUCHI: Here, in a rented basement apartment, it's standing room only. About 40 attendees have come for a lecture on using social networks to look for jobs. Tamara Miller is among them. Miller is a rabbi who lost her job as a spiritual counselor at a hospital two years ago. With churches and synagogues strapped for funds, 64-year-old Miller can't find a job, but she says she can't afford an early retirement, either.

TAMARA MILLER: I couldn't get Social Security for another year or two, but even then, I couldn't retire, no.

NOGUCHI: In the meantime, she writes a blog to keep in touch with parishioners, and she says that helps her get spiritual support she finds she craves as she deals with joblessness.

MILLER: I think people, sometimes they feel lost. And their callings, you know, the thing that they thought that that was their purpose in life has been taken away, and who are they without a title, you know, without a nine to five job?

NOGUCHI: Middle-aged unemployed people typically face more financial pressures, such as supporting a family and paying for kids' education. Rich Morin is a senior editor at Pew Research Center. He says young people's job problems compound problems for jobless parents.

RICH MORIN: They are having to welcome back their grown children, and that means families are retaining expenses and sharing resources for longer periods of time.

NOGUCHI: The unemployment rate among the middle-aged is less than for the population overall - and far less than for very young job seekers. But demographers and labor economists say the recession squeezed middle management - and those positions are also slower to come back. Also, experience doesn't necessarily work to their advantage. Sometimes it makes finding a match for their skills harder. Of the dozen or so jobseekers I interviewed around the country, many say they believe ageism runs rampant.

A 52-year-old engineer who lost his government job two and a half years ago, says experience used to be valued.

MAN: Now all of a sudden we're finding employers don't want us. You know, why is this happening? It's because we're older, and there's this false perception out there that we're no longer any good and we're going to cost more money.

NOGUCHI: He says many employers believe middle-aged workers are technically obsolete, and that the bias toward hiring younger workers is strong. Human resources professionals say there's no hard evidence for this youth-bias. But, they note there are simply fewer leadership positions and the competition for them is fierce - which is why it may take older workers longer to find a job. It's taken three years for Elise Negrin to land an entry-level position, and she says she's long given up being choosy.

It took almost three years for Elise Negrin to land an entry-level position, and she says she's long given up being choosy.

ELISE NEGRIN: I'm working at a nonprofit veterinary clinic. I'm seriously underemployed and I actively seek work every single day.

NOGUCHI: Negrin previously was chief operating officer for an auto-finance company. Now, she's making $10 an hour. No longer able to afford living in Long Island, New York, earlier this year she moved to Florida to live with her best friend - who is also unemployed. Negrin says her response is to try to look younger than her 57 years - at least on paper. She's taking fancy titles off her resume, hoping to camouflage her age and experience.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.