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Older unemployed workers still suffering, jobs numbers show

January 7, 2011 | 11:20 am

Walker Of all the demographic groups battered by the economic slowdown, older workers may have had the toughest time. Many lost their jobs, and, finding their skills outdated and their age working against them, have had to face long-term unemployment.

Friday's jobless figures show that the unemployment situation for older folks is improving slightly, but that they're still among the hardest hit by the recession.

People over 55 who had lost their jobs saw their average duration of unemployment fall to 42.8 weeks in December, from 44.9 in November, according to an AARP analysis of data. But that's still about three months longer than the duration of joblessness for people under 55. The average length of time younger workers were out of a job fell to 32.4 weeks in December, from 32.8 the month before.

Employers are often hesitant to hire applicants who have been out of work for more than a year because of stigma about unemployment. About 55.5% of all job seekers over 55 have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, the AARP says. That's compared with 42.4% of job seekers 55 and under.

Joblessness for older Americans could put a strain on already stressed social systems. The long-term unemployed run out of jobless benefits after 99 weeks. After that, many workers dip into retirement funds. Others apply for disability. Some apply to receive Social Security benefits early. 

In September the Social Security Administration reported that applications for disability benefits were expected to reach 3.3 million in the 2010 fiscal year, a 27% jump from 2008. Meanwhile, early retirements and a decline in payroll taxes have cut into Social Security revenues.

"What am I going to do for the rest of my life?" Mignon Veasley-Fields, 61, told The Times last year.

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Photo: Older unemployed workers like Hugh Walker, 73, want jobs. Credit: Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times

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