Age and unemployment

Date posted: July 20, 2012

The slow job market and high unemployment are still putting a damper on the economy. But when we look at job prospects by age, do some age groups have it better than others? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“Typically in past recessions and past economies we have seen that middle-aged workers — and we’re going to call those workers between the age of 45 and 64 — have done much better economically and particularly in the job market than very young workers.

“We’re going to call young workers those between 16 and 24. However, that pattern does not hold today. In fact for the first time since we’ve had data we’ve seen that the proportion of … all unemployed is now higher for those middle-aged workers than it is for younger workers.

“So younger workers are actually doing relatively better on that measure than middle-aged workers. Now why? What’s changed?

“Well, I think there’s a couple of factors that have changed. Number one, a lot of those very young workers are not technically in the labor force, because they continue to go to school. We all know that college enrollments are up both at four-year colleges, community colleges, so many young workers — whereas in the past they would have been in the labor force, they would have been looking for work – [have] chosen to delay that by staying in school. So, I think that’s one factor.

“Second factor is that our economy, as many people know, is undergoing a massive transformation. Many jobs are simply being eliminated and never coming back. New kinds of jobs are coming online. Those new kinds of jobs typically need more training, more education by the worker. That is having a profound, profound effect on middle-aged workers, many of whom are long past their … prime time for learning.

“So it is a new labor force, and that … new labor force is having a profound effect on workers in terms of their age.”

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