Ten days ago, another monthly jobs report came in, indicating slow but steady progress: In August, the overall rate of unemployment fell to pre-crisis levels, 5.1 percent—the lowest since April 2008. Adding to the media’s positive reception of this buoyant news, job growth was widespread across many sectors of the economy.
Meanwhile, though, the slight increase in the unemployment rate for workers ages 55 and over, from 3.7 percent to 3.8 percent, was scarcely noted. While the jobless rate is always lower for older workers, it is unusual for their increase or decrease to diverge much from those of the national numbers.
As of last month, there are about 1.3 million Americans over 55 who are actively looking for a job, but can’t find one. But that estimate is probably low, because it doesn’t count the older people who are too discouraged to actively seek work or too proud to tell a pollster they are jobless, instead saying they’re a more respectable-sounding “retiree.” It has been suggested that a lot of the older people who report being retired are closet unemployed.
In short, the declining national unemployment rate hides the fact that economic growth is not benefiting everyone. These disparities probably exist because many workplaces are biased against older workers and because older workers who have seen their 401(k)s shrink and their pensions evaporate are looking for more work, increasing labor-market competition.