Bad news for older workers

Job seekers participate in a career counseling session. The Government Accountability Office says the number of long-term unemployed 55 and older has more than doubled since the recession began back in 2007.

Kai Ryssdal: A report out this week from the Goverment Accountability Office has some fairly sobering news about older workers. The GAO says the number of long-term unemployed people who are 55 and over has more than doubled since the recession started in 2007. And a lot of them have just given up looking.

Marketplace's Sarah Gardner has more on the double whammy of a lousy job market and age bias.

Sarah Gardner: According to the Urban Institute, half of adults 62 and older end up dropping out of the workforce within 9 months of losing a job. You could call that giving up or facing reality, depending on your point of view.

Richard Johnson: Well, I think they're facing reality.

The Urban Institute's Richard Johnson says if you lose your job in your 50s and 60s, brace yourself. It now takes folks 55 and older more than a year to find another gig and it almost always pays way less. Sara Rix at AARP says that's why many jobless seniors are opting to simply retire early and collect Social Security starting at 62. Problem is, by retiring early, they're taking a 25 percent hit on their monthly benefits.

Sara Rix: By the time you're 75 or 80 or so, when health care expenditures increase, that reduction in benefits can really have an adverse impact on financial well-being.

The Urban Institute figures workers lose an average 9 percent in retirement income for every year they're out of the workforce. Between job layoffs, shrinking home values and disappearing pensions, the image of the carefree, golf-playing, cruise-taking retired couple begins to sound quaint. And that, says Christine Owens at the National Employment Law Project, is bad for all of us.

Christine Owens: We actually as an economy depend a lot on what seniors spend as part of our consumption-based economy.

Less money for the economy and passed onto the kids.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk covering sustainability news spots and features.
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@paulmd; It's actually 15% that the government has been taking. The theory is that workers and employers pay social security equally for each employee. But, in fact, on a budgetary basis,both payments, 15%, come from the employer's budget for that employee. If it weren't going to the tax, it would be paid to the employee.

I think it would just be a better bargain if the U.S. had forced savings of 10% into registered investments. Even in their late 40s, most employees would be even or ahead by the time they retired.

Kai! Your last guest said something like, "if you retire early, the government pays you to stay home." To be clear, the government hasn't paid me to do anything since I left the Army in 1965. The government doesn't have any money . . . the government only holds YOUR money and MINE. I've been paying nearly 7% of my earnings into social security since 1965, and my employer(s) have matched that amount. The government is only sending me what I've been paying in for 47 years, and if I hadn't been paying, they'd tell me, 'tough luck, Paul, you ain't paid so you don't GET!' There's no such thing as "government money" . . . It's an expression invented by Miss Nomers . . . There's YOUR money and MY money, but there's no such thing as "Government money". Government is a COST center, not a PROFIT center. Please don't let people characterize social security as some kind of freebie hand out . . . It's MY money and YOURS that's been on deposit for many years and we're entitled to it.

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