Bookend Recovery: Younger and Older Workers Faring Better in Recovery

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The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression has hurt both young and old who have suffered equally in their sometimes desperate search for employment. The unemployment rate for Americans ages 55 and older has remained higher than that for those ages 25 to 40 for one reason: many younger workers, new to the job force, have stopped looking for work, returning home or to school to wait out the hard times.

Nevertheless, while baby boomers and their millennial counterparts do battle over the meager remains of the current job market, the result has been that these two edges of the age spectrum—the bookends—have in fact fared best during the recovery.

Top Down

Hiring specialists have observed that financial firms are routinely filling top positions from within their own ranks. The ensuing domino effect has created job openings for new employees on the lower rungs of their corporate ladder. Here, less experienced (younger) workers are taking advantage of these opportunities and entering new firms or crossing over into new industries.

Meanwhile, more experienced (older) job seekers have been playing one of their major advantages by utilizing the broad network of contacts they have assembled over the years to help them get jobs.

The losers in this tussle? Those in-between, in the 35 to 55 age range, suffer most.

Young and Attractive

Generally, businesses are seeking workers who are going to be highly productive for a long period of time. This favors the younger workforce who is more up-to-date and generally willing to learn and change. And younger applicants, increasingly single, are also more likely to take low wage positions or relocate in order to take a job. That flexibility provides more job opportunities. And younger applicants tend to be less choosy overall. According to research by the Pew Research Center, nearly half of adults under age 35 have applied for and accepted jobs they don't want.

That is not a characteristic of the older set, who generally seek higher wages and executive jobs, of which there are far fewer. And while the unemployment rate for older workers is higher than in previous recessions, it’s nevertheless clear that older workers are finding jobs, as baby boomers more and more plan to—and need to—stay in the workforce beyond the traditional retirement age of 65.

Wisdom in Demand

However, while older workers continue to be valued for their experience and effectiveness, some employers maintain an opinion that older workers are not going to be as up-to-date as their younger counterparts; that they are slower to embrace new technology or accept new ways of doing things. So, employers have been choosing instead to hire older workers for project work and part-time assignments, leveraging their experience and knowledge. Of course, these kinds of jobs do not provide job benefits or pay unemployment insurance when the assignment ends. So for those 55-plus, their success is a product of, and diminished somewhat by, their willingness to work for less and their strong work ethic.

More than 2.7 million jobs have been created since the recession. Even so, the problem that remains is not what age you are, but that there still just aren't enough jobs to go around.

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