Unemployment: Are Younger or Older Employees Suffering More?

Some analysts say that Boomers and older, more experienced workers are faring better than their younger counterparts in the current imploding job market. True? It all depends on who’s parsing the numbers, which day of which month of which year you’re examining, and where in the world you’re looking. For now, the volatility and uncertainty of economic and employment trends have stumped even the sharpest of analysts. Many are keeping mum, while expecting just about anything. Here are a few reasons why:

Recently, Newsweek (February 9, 2009) sent out some eye-popping Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data showing that the number of employed 55-and-over workers jumped by 900,000 between December 2007 through the end of 2008. At the same time, 2.9 million jobs were lost among those aged 25 to 54. Apparently, companies don’t want to repeat the mistakes of earlier recessions, when so many older workers were bought-out for early retirements that organizations found themselves with insufficient human capital to effectively run the show. And, yes, companies are also wary of age discrimination lawsuits.

But AARP portrays a darker scenario for older workers, using BLS figures from the third and fourth quarters of 2008. During the one-month September/October interval, for example, the BLS found workers 55 and over losing jobs at a faster clip than any other age group. The older unemployed also experienced longer durations of long- and short-term joblessness.

On the global front, developing nations are experiencing alarming levels of unemployment. The Chinese government has reported that 20 million migrant workers have lost their manufacturing jobs, largely due to the closing of 70,000 plants brought on by reductions in world demand, according to CNN.com. And these displaced workers are flocking back to their rural homes, with nothing waiting for them but vague government promises of financial support or primitive agricultural training. Are there differences in generational pain here? It’s a safe bet that most of these migrants belong to China’s youngest generation; the first of China’s poor to believe they had a way out of poverty by riding the wave of an economic boom. Some analysts worry that resulting economic hardship fueled by dashed hopes could lead to widespread unrest among large numbers of disenfranchised rural youth. As long-time veterans of economic deprivation, newly unemployed older workers in China will likely find more passive ways of coping. But does anybody really expect they will be able to assuage their children?