The number of workers age 55 and older experiencing long-term unemployment has grown substantially since the recession began in 2007, according to the GAO report. This raises concerns about how long-term unemployment will affect older workers’ reemployment prospects and future retirement income.
The GAO noted that long-term unemployment can substantially diminish an older worker’s future retirement income in several ways. It can force a worker to stop working and stop saving for retirement earlier than he had planned, and long-term unemployment can lead an individual to draw down his retirement savings to cover living expenses while he is unemployed, which was a common experience described by GAO’s focus group participants.
In addition, long-term unemployment can motivate older workers to claim early Social Security retirement benefits, which will result in lower monthly benefits for workers and their survivors for the rest of their lives.
The experts and staff GAO interviewed at some one-stop career centers, as well as the unemployed older workers who participated in GAO’s focus groups, identified employer reluctance to hire older workers as a key challenge that older workers face in finding reemployment.They also identified out-of-date skills, discouragement and depression, and inexperience with online applications as reemployment barriers for this group.
Experts recommended policies to provide incentives, such as temporary wage or training subsidies for employers to hire long-term unemployed older workers. However, the GAO conceded, in the current context of high unemployment and slow job creation, the impact of most of these policies is likely to be muted by limited job openings. The full GAO report can be downloaded at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-445.