The New School’s Retirement Equity Lab reported in early August that 2.9 million workers ages 55 to 70 had left the labor market since March — meaning that they were neither working nor actively job-hunting — and projected that another 1.1 million might do so by November. “They’re exiting the labor force at twice the rate they were during the Great Recession” of 2007 to 2009, Dr. Ghilarducci said.
In July, more than 9 percent of workers over age 65 were unemployed, according to an Urban Institute analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Using a broader definition, including those employed part time who would prefer full-time positions and those not working for other reasons, the proportion rises to 16.5 percent — a sharp decline from the spring, but still a sobering number.
Unemployment rose higher still for older women, Black and Latino workers, and those without college degrees, Dr. Johnson found. “In good times and bad, unemployment is always higher for people of color and people with lower education,” he said. Such disparities “become even more pronounced during a recession.”
Researchers can’t yet say what role health concerns have played in the displacement of older workers. Only about a third can work from home, Dr. Ghilarducci said, so fears of contracting the coronavirus at workplaces may prevent some from returning to work. It’s more likely, she said, that employers are quicker to rehire younger people, who they think will cost less in health benefits and stay on the job longer.
Industries where older workers have been hardest hit include construction, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, education and other nonprofessional services, the Urban Institute found. In leisure and hospitality, more than a third of workers over 55 lost their jobs.
Among them is Becky Schaffner, 64, who had worked at the Omaha Marriott since the hotel opened 39 years ago, most recently as an administrative assistant in sales, making $16 an hour. “I loved my job,” she said. “Talking to people from all over. Taking care of their needs.”
Ms. Schaffner was furloughed along with most of her co-workers in mid-March, then laid off in July. Now that the $600 federal supplement has ended, her unemployment comes to $338 weekly, making it hard to cover the mortgage on her Fremont, Neb., home.