Job Loss at 55: Often a Long Road Back

A study quantifies how much job loss costs older workers

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As a group, retirees and older workers are not in the financial straits that we often assume. The vast majority of retirees say they are comfortable; the unemployment rate for those over 55 is lower than that of the general population, and it’s coming down.

Still, the Great Recession has taken a toll on the older population, dooming many to a reduced living standard for the rest of their lives, according to recent research from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

In the early part of the downturn workers past the age of 55 suffered an unusually high rate of job loss. The unemployment rate for this group spiked to 7.2%. That has abated and the figure now stands at 5.3%, vs. an overall unemployment rate of 7.6%. But the initial surge of job loss has broad implications. Older workers who suffer a layoff have a more difficult time returning to work for equal or more pay, research shows.

Ten years after losing a job, older displaced workers earn 14% to 19% less than they did before the job loss, according to the retirement center’s research. They own 22% to 30% fewer assets and are significantly more likely to experience subsequent layoffs. As Maria Heidkamp, a senior project manager at the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, notes in her blog:

I routinely meet older job seekers who have made transitions to new jobs, such as the supermarket checkout clerk who used to do marketing for a big pharmaceutical company; the airport-van driver who used to work as a newspaper editor; the other airport-van driver who used to work for Hewlett-Packard; the cable repairman who used to be in finance.

This downward mobility is part of the “de-skilling” of the American labor force, according a paper from three Canadian economists. High-skilled labor moves down the occupational ladder, pushing unskilled labor down even further — or off the ladder altogether.

One issue seems to be employer misperception as it relates to older workers and their requirements. Many employers assume older laid-off workers won’t return for anything less than the job they once had, and that these workers will have not kept up with today’s needed skills.

Yet as Heidkamp observes, older workers are more than ready to work for less if that’s what it takes to get re-employed. And in a rapidly evolving workplace, there is no guarantee that young workers are keeping up any better. “Even employed workers need to be always thinking about their next job and how to navigate their own career and professional development,” she writes. But at least they have time to figure it out.


The software company I was working for at age 54 went under and for the first time in my life it took me more than a few weeks to find a new job - over a year.  I finally got a job paying about 80% of my old salary through personal contacts (someone I used to manage years ago at another company hired me - a good object lesson in being nice to the people you manage). Of course, it's proving to be impossible to move up at my new employer but it sure as heck beats pulling shots at a coffee bar along with the new college grads who can't find a job in this economy.


Crap, I'm 55.

I'm making 100 percent less than I did a year ago.

Any ideas? Because I can't even get that fuggin drive-the-airport-van gig.


Call Nobamer and tell him to go back to Iraq! All these jobless seniors are a direct result of him being president!!!!!!! Where is bush when we need him???? MURICA



Seems Bob has been hitting the 4th of July beer keg a bit early because he's forgotten how we got into this economic mess to begin with.

Apparently, MurcanBob has gotten so drunk that he's forgot the recession which caused all of this trouble was because Bush didn't do HIS job, and it's stuck around for so long because the GOP has stood in the way of EVERY SINGLE JOB PLAN proposed in congress since Obama took office, and they have not offered ANY JOB PLANS of their own.

But, oddly, the question "Where is Bush when we need him?" (Which is the right way to say it), should have been "Where WAS Bush when we needed him?"  The answer, of course, is enriching the wealthy backers of the GOP who are fine making money while the rest of us starve.  Austerity only makes money for the wealthy and doesn't stimulate the economy.  Spending money stimulates the economy and makes money for everyone.

MelStricker 2 Like

It is not the recession it is age bias.  If I modify my resume to make it look like I have not worked as long as I have I get a call back.  Then when they realize my age (66) the whole employment process stops.  I am a software engineer and one guy had the gall to ask me if I knew how to use email.  I said of course I do.  He said he asked the question because people my age normally have a problem with technology.  I asked him how he could ask a question like that when we are discussing my experience working on computers.  He changed the subject and I never got a call back.  If this is not age bias I don't know what is.

Companies use code words and phrases since age bias is illegal.  You get, "Oh, you are too experienced for this job."

There are actual shortages in some fields and there is still an effort to keep people with experience out.  It is frustrating to many of us and, it seems, no one, including the government seems to care.


@MelStricker Trying to prove age discrimination (or any discrimination) is virtually impossible.

You have to subpoena the employer to obtain the notes the interviewer took, as well as a record of all the applications and resumes submitted for the same position.  If equally qualified (or better qualified) older people applied and were not called, while younger people were, that's evidence of discrimination.  Even though dates of birth are no longer allowed on application forms, resumes usually give away the ages of people one way or another.  Sometimes they're dumb enough to put a note in the resume to indicate that they're too old.

The problem with this is that in order to get a subpoena, you have to file suit FIRST - which tips them off as to the nature of your discovery and they dump any incriminating records or tie you up in court at a time when it's likely you can't afford it.  Anti-discrimination laws are a joke if there's no real way to prove the practice in the first place.  I can't remember the last time someone sued for it and won.  And we all know it goes on all the time.