Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The rise of the older worker

The rise of the older worker, by Jim Hillage, research director
Institute for Employment Studies
December 12, 2012

There are more people working in the UK today than at anytime in our history. Today's labour market statistics show another increase in the numbers employed taking the total to 29,600,000, up 40,000 on the previous quarter and 500,000 on a year ago.

Almost half of the rise has been among people aged 50 or over, with the fastest rate of increase occurring among those 65 or over, particularly among older women.

There are now almost a million people aged 65 or over in jobs, double the number ten years ago and up 13 per cent over the past year. Although these older workers comprise only three percent of the working population, they account for 20 per cent of the recent growth in employment. However this group has a very different labour market profile to the rest of the working population, particularly younger people, and there is no evidence to suggest older workers are gaining employment at the expense of the young generation. For example:
  • 30 per cent of older workers (ie aged 65+) work in managerial and professional jobs, compared with only nine per cent of younger workers (aged 16 to 24). Conversely 34 per cent of young people work in sales, care and leisure jobs, compared with only 14 of their older counterparts.
  • Nearly four in ten older workers are self-employed, compared with five per cent of younger workers.
  • Most (69 per cent) of 65 plus year olds work part-time, compared with 39 per cent of young workers (and 27 per cent of all those in work).
Jim Hillage, Director of Research at the Institute for Employment Studies, explains that:

‘There are a number of reasons why older workers are staying on in work. In some cases employers want to retain their skills and experience and encourage them to stay on, albeit on a part-time basis, and most older employees have been working for their employer for at least ten years and often in smaller workplaces. Conversely, some older people have to stay in work as their pensions are inadequate and it is interesting to note that employment of older workers is highest in London and the South East, where living costs are highest. Finally, there is also a growing group of self-employed who still want to retain their work connections and interests.’

2012 © Institute for Employment Studies

Update: Long-Term Jobless Begin to Find Work. By Ben Casselman
The Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2013, on page A2

The epidemic of long-term unemployment, one of the most pernicious and persistent challenges bedeviling the U.S. economy, is finally showing signs of easing.

The long-term unemployed—those out of work more than six months—made up 39.1% of all job seekers in December, according to the Labor Department, the first time that figure has dropped below 40% in more than three years.


The problem is far from solved. Nearly 4.8 million Americans have been out of work for more than six months, down from a peak of more than 6.5 million in 2010 but still a level without precedent since World War II.

The recent signs of progress mark a reversal from earlier in the recovery, when long-term unemployment proved resistant to improvement elsewhere in the labor market.

Total unemployment peaked in late 2009 and has dropped relatively steadily since then, while the number of long-term unemployed continued to rise into 2010 and then fell only slowly through much of 2011.

More recently, however, unemployment has fallen more quickly among the long-term jobless than among the broader population. In the past year, the number of long-term unemployed workers has dropped by 830,000, accounting for nearly the entire 843,000-person drop in overall joblessness.

When Michael Leahy lost his job as a manager at a Connecticut bank in 2010, the state had already shed about 10,000 financial-sector jobs in the previous two years and he had difficulty even landing an interview. By the time banks started hiring again, Mr. Leahy, now 59, had been out of work for more than a year and found himself getting passed over for candidates with jobs or ones who had been laid off more recently.

In July, however, Mr. Leahy was accepted into a program for the long-term unemployed run by the Work Place, a local workforce development agency. The program helped Mr. Leahy improve his resume and interviewing skills, and ultimately connected him with a local bank that was hiring.

Mr. Leahy began a new job in December. The chance to work again in his chosen field, he said, was more than worth the roughly 15% pay cut from his previous job.

"The thing that surprised me is this positive feeling I have every day of getting up in the morning and knowing I have a place to go to and a place where people are waiting for me," Mr. Leahy said.


The decline in long-term unemployment is good news for the broader economy. Many economists, including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, feared that many long-term unemployed workers would become permanently unemployable, creating a "structural" unemployment problem akin to what Europe suffered in the 1980s. But those fears are beginning to recede along with the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

"I don't think it's the case that the long-term unemployed are no longer employable," said Omair Sharif, an economist for RBS Securities Inc. "In fact, they've been the ones getting the jobs."

Not all the drop in long-term joblessness can be attributed to workers finding positions. In recent years, millions of Americans have given up looking for work, at which point they no longer count as "unemployed" in official statistics.

The recent drop in long-term unemployment, however, doesn't appear to be due to such dropouts. The number of people who aren't in the labor force but say they want a job has risen by only about 400,000 in the past year, while the number of Americans with jobs has risen by 2.4 million. That suggests at least much of the improvement is due to people finding jobs, not dropping out, Mr. Sharif said.

The average unemployed worker has now been looking for 38 weeks, down from a peak of nearly 41 weeks and the lowest level since early 2011.

The long-term unemployed still face grim odds of finding work. About 10% of long-term job seekers found work in April, the most recent month for which a detailed breakdown is available, compared with about a quarter of more recently laid-off workers. The ranks of the short-term jobless are more quickly refreshed by newly laid-off workers, however. As a result, the total number of short-term unemployed has fallen more slowly in recent months, even though individual workers still stand a far better chance of finding work early in their search.

And when the long-term unemployed do find work, their new jobs generally pay less than their old ones—often much less. A recent study from economists at Boston University, Columbia University and the Institute for Employment Research found that every additional year out of work reduces workers' wages when they do find a job by 11%.

Moreover, the recent gains have yet to reach the longest of the long-term unemployed: While the number of people unemployed for between six months and two years has fallen by 12% in the past year, the ranks of those jobless for three years or longer has barely budged at all.

Patricia Soprych, a 51-year-old widow in Skokie, Ill., recently got a job as a grocery-store cashier after more than a year of looking for work. But the job is part-time and pays the minimum wage, which she finds barely enough to make ends meet.

"You say the job market's getting better. Yeah, for these $8.25-an-hour jobs," Ms. Soprych said.

Economists cite several reasons for the drop in long-term unemployment. Most significant is the gradual healing of the broader labor market, which has seen the unemployment rate drop to 7.8% in December from a high of 10% in 2009. After initially benefiting mostly the more recently laid-off, that progress is now being felt among the longer-term jobless as well.

The gradual strengthening in the housing market could lead to more improvement. Many of the long-term unemployed are former construction workers who lost jobs when the housing bubble burst. Rising home building has yet to lead to a surge in construction employment, but many experts expect hiring to pick up in 2013.

Another possible factor behind the recent progress: the gradual reduction in emergency unemployment benefits available to laid-off workers. During the recession, Congress extended unemployment benefits to as long as 99 weeks in some states. Today, benefits last 73 weeks at most, and less time in many states. Research suggests that unemployment payments lead some recipients not to look as hard for jobs, and the loss of benefits may have pushed some job seekers to accept work they might otherwise have rejected, said Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution.