Long-Term Unemployment Hits Older Workers the Hardest

To get an idea of how many Americans have been out of work for more than a year, envision the state of Louisiana. Yes, the state's population -- around 4.4 million -- is about the same as the number of people who have been jobless for 12 months and counting, according to the latest report from Pew Charitable Trusts.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, Congress and President Obama have been gridlocked over a proposed jobs bill, while the private sector reported a slight increase in the number of jobs created created last month.

The Pew analysis showed that 31.8% of the 14 million total unemployed workers have been jobless for more than 12 months, which is double the 2009 percentage. The economic cost of long-term unemployment continues to add up, and the government is forecast to pay $120 billion in 2011 for unemployment benefits, according to figures from Congressional Budget Office, the report said. That's an improvement from 2010, when the government paid nearly $160 billion.

Long-term unemployment continues to affect older workers more than younger ones, according to Pew. More than 43% of unemployed workers older than 55 have been out of work for at least a year compared to just 30% of workers between 24 and 35, the report said.

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Older unemployed workers face unique challenges, said Linda Barrington, the managing director of the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University's ILR School. The financial impact on earnings for the long-term unemployed has lasting effect on earnings, which can hurt the ability to plan for a secure retirement. For older job seekers, lower starting salaries may also be a tough pill to swallow in finding a new job.

"When they entered the job market, there was still the paradigm of 'We underpay you when young and overpay you when you are old,'" Barrington said. "But that has changed. Now younger people are getting much higher salaries to start. If you lose your job [and you're on the older side], it may require an adjustment in earnings you are not willing to make."

For older workers, there's also less mobility than for younger workers, she said. Financial commitments such as mortgages and homeownership decrease their ability to relocate, which can limit options for a new job.

Education made little difference in the length of unemployment, the report showed, with long-term joblessness only slightly less prevalent among those with advanced degrees than those with only high school diplomas. The report showed that 34% of unemployed workers held a college degree, compared to 38% of jobless high school graduates.

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