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Sloan Center News

Older and Out of Work: The Job Search

published by center on aging & work details special challenges of older u.s. workers left unemployed in a sinking economy

22 September 2008—Older American workers who lose their jobs in the faltering U.S. economy face special challenges, according to a new issue brief from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.  

The analysis, entitled Older and Out of Work: Trends in Older Worker Displacement,was prepared for Boston College’s Sloan Center on Aging & Work by faculty and professional research staff from Rutgers’ John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.  It examines the impact of unemployment on older Americans who must work to support themselves and their families -- but who may not be eligible for healthcare coverage under Medicare. Workers ranging in age from 40 to 75 are feeling the strain.

The economy continues to deteriorate," said co-author Carl Van Horn, Professor and Director of the Heldrich Center.  "And layoffs will be a cruel fact of life for many older workers. They face far tougher challenges as they seek to return to work than their younger counterparts.  Dr. Van Horn prepared the issue brief with Project Manager Maria Heidkamp.

Among the findings reported in Older and Out of Work:

  • Since 1980, the rate of job displacement among workers over age 50 has risen sharply compared to younger workers.
  • In a reversal of past trends, older workers are now MORE likely to lose their jobs than younger workers.
  • Older workers who lose their jobs today have greater losses of income (between 20 and 40%) and longer periods of unemployment than less experienced younger colleagues.
  • Many employers view older jobseekers as less productive, more resistant to change, and more costly to train than younger hires.
  • Older jobseekers lack adequate information on training, job searches, high-demand skills, and opportunities for self-employment.

Losing a job is difficult at any age, observed Maria Heidkamp. Yet, the evidence clearly suggests that workers in their 50’s, 60’s and older face special obstacles to getting re-employed. It is time to ask how employment and training programs can be more effective in bringing older unemployed workers back into workplaces where their talents are still needed and valued.


The John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development is located at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. It is one of the nation’s leading university-based research and policy centers dedicated to raising the effectiveness of the American workplace through improved workforce education, placement and training. The Center identifies innovative workforce practices and practical economic policy changes that can help Americans receive the education and training they need to be productive and prosperous in a global knowledge economy. Web site:

The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College was founded in 2005 with a multi-million dollar grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Center sponsors evidence-based research on the response of American employers and employees to an increasingly global multi-generational workforce.  In collaboration with workplace decision-makers, the Center seeks to provide employers with research data to attract, engage, and retain high-quality industry talent.

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