The number of age discrimination claims neared a record high last year and unemployment for those 55 and older has never been higher, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. The company released its analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data at the end of last month.
However, the same analysis showed that age has its benefits, namely needed experience. According to the data, workers 55 and older represent the only segment of the population to experience net employment gains over the past year.
'The latest employment figures suggest that it is both a blessing and a curse to be
an older job seeker in America,' said CEO John A. Challenger in a prepared statement.
'There definitely are obstacles for more seasoned job seekers – some of which are institutional and some self-imposed – and the recession has clearly tightened the market for everyone, including senior job seekers,' he added. 'At the same time, the latest figures show that these job seekers appear to be overcoming the obstacles related to age and the recession better than most people realize.'
Not only is the unemployment rate for older Americans lower, they are the only age group that has seen employment gains. Between March 2009 and March 2010, employment among people age 55 to 64 grew 3 percent from 20,954,000 to 21,584,000. Americans 65 and over saw the number employed grow 2.3 percent from 6,055,000 to 6,192,000.
The biggest gains were in management and professional occupations, according to Challenger.
According to BLS data, employment among workers 55 and older in service
occupations, including healthcare support, food preparation, protective services and maintenance occupation, grew 2.7 percent to an annual average of 3.8 million in 2009.
The number of workers 55 and older employed in management, professional and related occupations increase 5 percent from 10.9 million in 2008 to 11.4 last year.
'While older job seekers do face difficulties securing positions, they continue to make gains. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that these seasoned veterans are valuable to employers who want people who can hit the ground running without much, if any training,' Challenger said.
Not that it's all sunny. It's taking longer for the most experienced job seekers to find positions. In March, unemployed workers age 55 and older had been out of work for an average of 35.5 weeks compared to 30.3 weeks for job seekers 25 to 54, Challenger reports.
Older job hunters have to overcome some stereotypes, Challenger points out. HR managers might worry about how committed an older worker, near retirement age, might be. Concerns could also include a worker's willingness to work for a younger boss, take a lower salary or adapt to new technology.
Challenger says older workers need to put these and any other misperceptions to rest.
'You want to convey to the hiring manager that you are flexible and always open to change and continued learning,' he says.
'You may have 20 years of experience over the person hiring you, but any attempt to suggest that you know more than he or she does will immediately label you as someone who is unlikely to work well with a younger boss or alter your working style to fit the culture of the employer. The biggest mistake older job seekers make is to get
defensive about age or consider their age to be a negative.'