The mainstream media would have you believe that happy days are here again, thanks to declining unemployment numbers. However, a cancer lurks deep within the sweet bud of economic recovery, a malady that goes largely unreported: the percentage of employed Americans in their prime working years (25 to 54) is at its lowest point in 23 years.
Turbulent years for US workers
U.S. federal statistics indicate that in the 23 years before the economic recession, the proportion of prime working aged Americans has never been so low. Currently, a mere 75.7 percent of working Americans between the ages of 25 and 54 are employed – and that’s just 1 percent better than the lowest figure recorded at the nadir of the recession. Immediately before the recession, the employment figure was about 80 percent.
Missing workers are invisible
Standard unemployment figures reported in the mainstream media do not tend to include those “missing workers” who have stopped seeking jobs. Experts indicate that many of these missing workers fall into the prime working years category, which is a clear sign of economic turbulence for the U.S. Prime-age workers are building careers and creating their retirement nest egg. Yet an inordinately high number of such workers are on the outside, looking in.
“What it shows is that we are still near the bottom of a very big hole that opened in the recession,” said economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute.
Men bear the brunt
A particularly revealing statistic when it comes to the plight of unemployed prime-age workers pertains to men. The percentage of unemployed men in their prime working years has not only remained worse than it was before the recession, but it has dropped to its lowest point since 1948. For point of comparison, women in their prime working years have not fared this badly since 1988. In both cases, the estimated 4 million U.S. workers who have stopped looking for employment drag the figures into the abyss. And according to Time, 40 percent of the nation’s officially classified unemployed have been out of work for over a year – and the federal government is now beginning to turn off the unemployment compensation faucet.
The catch-22 of being unemployed
The ugly truth for unemployed job seekers is that many companies actually have unwritten rules that reflect bias against the unemployed. Most hiring parties do not make this bias public, but some have been so bold as to reflect it in job listings. As National Employment Law Project executive director Christine Owens told Time, such corporate behavior has become “business as usual,” and largely free of legal reach of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Proving before the U.S. Supreme Court that the practice has a “disparate impact” on the unemployed as a protected minority group should be exceedingly difficult, legal experts note.
Non-prime-age employment options
Considering the growing number of workers ages 25 to 54 who are being passed over for employment, that means that more jobs are being filled by younger (early 20s) and older workers. It’s easy to see why companies might jump at the chance. With the former, younger employees will generally agree to lower pay, are more easily molded, have greater tech savvy and fewer bad work habits that have been ingrained over time. Older workers have experience and are generally more loyal and prideful in their work. For older workers, companies will also generally pay less in matching fees to retirement accounts over the life of the employee.
On the flip side, however, younger workers require greater training expenditure, have less respect for authority and are more likely to jump ship at the first sighting of more lucrative employment waters. Older workers may possess eroded skills and require that an employer pay more on health insurance premiums.
Until the hurdles preventing corporate discrimination against the unemployed are fully addressed – or a big economic turnaround occurs – expect more of the same American unemployment nightmares.
US unemployment benefits cut off