Middle-aged Losing Out in Jobs Recovery

Susan Hall

Though USA Today asks why the biggest companies aren't hiring, in tech many of them are. Yet middle-aged workers tend to be losing out in the jobs being created so far in this post-recession economy, according to U.S. News & World Report.


It says the U.S. economy overall created 216,000 jobs in March and 1.9 million new jobs since employment levels bottomed out at the end of 2009. But most of the jobs being created are going to people younger than 34 or older than 55.


Paired with Paul Krugman's depressing piece in the The New York Times about the "hollowing out" of the job market, this article can put middle-aged workers in a true funk. But the two share some of the same points. Krugman wrote:

The fact is that since 1990 or so the U.S. job market has been characterized not by a general rise in the demand for skill, but by "hollowing out": both high-wage and low-wage employment have grown rapidly, but medium-wage jobs-the kinds of jobs we count on to support a strong middle class-have lagged behind.

He makes the point that many tasks being automated these days-his example was legal research-fall in the middle in terms of skill and wages. Those tasks tend to follow explicit sets of rules, while more high-skill jobs as well as many menial jobs do not.


The U.S. News article points to four trends:


  • Seniors working longer. In essence, many of them have to. They lost much of their nest eggs when the stock market went south and the value of their homes took a dive as well. With lawmakers pondering cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, many see retirement as too risky.
  • A crisis in jobs among the middle-aged. The story reports a decline of about 364,000 jobs in this age group so far this year. Though many of these people are at their peak in expertise, they also command higher salaries. Companies tend to want to hire less-expensive workers. But the family breadwinners of middle age also produce the income that propels our consumer-based economy-and a lack of jobs there doesn't bode well.
  • More female breadwinners. Women tend to be slightly better educated overall, but in fields such as health care and education. And even in tech, women still earn less than men. This is just one way the dearth of women in high-paying fields such as IT hurts our country as a whole.
  • A shrinking labor force. There are plenty of discouraged people who have just given up on finding a job.


With the rapid change in technology, IT pros know only too well they have to continually reinvent themselves to work with the latest big thing. In the IT world of today, that can mean being the automator and not the automated, as my colleague Ann All has written. Next year it could be something completely different.


Many folks are trying to figure out how to reinvent themselves. For them, another U.S. News piece should be required reading: "Is it Time to Go Back to School?" Hint: The answer isn't necessarily yes.

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