Baby Boomers: America's new unemployables

Job seekers line up at a jobs fair in Orlando, Fla.

For all its good news, the latest jobs report showed the average duration of unemployment actually went UP in March, to 39 weeks ... long enough for many older unemployed to add another year to their problem: Their age. Our Cover Story is reported by Tracy Smith:

Long-term unemployment is getting old.

At a recent Orlando job fair, more than 2,000 showed up to apply for mostly entry level jobs. But quite a few looked closer to retirement age.

Executive assistant Pete Vaughn, 58, thought she'd retire at her old job: Now, she's looking for a new one.

"When you come to one of these things, does it surprise you to see people who look like they're your age?" Smith asked.

"I am, I am, my age and older even," said Vaughn. "So there's a lot of us out there looking."

Statistically, people over age 50 are actually LESS likely to be laid off. But for those who do get the axe, the going has never been tougher.

Laid-off workers 34 and younger have a 36% chance of finding a new job within a year. But for those in their 50s, it's only 24%.

Past age 62, it drops even more.

"People over 50 are in a very tough spot these days, because employers are cautious about taking on not only the salaries but the benefits they expect," said Jordan Goodman, an author and personal finance expert.

"Many cases, people 50+ can't replace the job they had before, even though they have lots of experience," Goodman said. "Experience is less valuable to employers these days than being cheap."

That's not news to Sam Wade. The former office manager has been looking since she was laid off a year ago, and she just turned 50.

"I think it's my age, I think it's working against me," Wade said. "I have friends my age that are struggling. And we're all near that 50 bracket, over-50 bracket. And there's so many young people coming out today that will do the job for a lot less."

And that's more than just a hunch:

Texas A&M professor Joanna Lahey sent out 4,000 fictitious resumes for jobs she found in the help wanted ads, with high school graduation dates that ranged from 1959 to 1986. And - you guessed it - employers were more likely to go for the younger applicants ... 40% more likely.

Wade said she's now willing to accept any job just to get back in the game, and that's becoming the rule for workers of a certain age.

In "The New Unemployables," a joint study by Boston College and Rutgers, researchers found that a growing number of people 50-plus are involuntarily working part-time - or, more troubling, getting so discouraged that they just quit looking for a job altogether.

"Is it possible that some of these older workers will never work again?' Smith asked.

"Of course; anything's possible," said Jacqueline James, research director at Boston College. "I'd like to say that people will find jobs. And they need to keep trying. But it is possible that people will not be able to."

She said they may spend the rest of their lives unemployed or underemployed, "making ends meet best they can."

"We are creating a new underclass of the 50+ generation that are not able to support themselves," said Goodman. "They're going to be a huge burden on the government because these baby boomers as they age haven't saved enough, do not have enough health care to maintain themselves."

So they keep looking ... in a shriveled job market that's a far cry from what they might remember, when a smile and a handshake could get you in the door.

Sandi Vidal's organization holds job fairs in Orlando every two months.

"I think that a lot of people who are in the older ages - when older, I say that and I'm 44 - are having challenges, because it's really a different world than it was the last time they job searched," said Vidal. "They're finding that it's taking longer. They're also being forced to go online, which they may have never done before."

Gary Boxhall lost his job in January of 2009, after 17 years in sales at a Salem, Ore., car dealership.

Now, a man who built a career on personal contact spends hours alone, looking for a job online.

"I started hearing these names some years back, you know? Face lift and, you know what? What's the latest one? Twitter or something?" he laughed. "Where did these people come up with these names? It wasn't too long ago, I don't think, that they just called it communication."

Boxhall is 65, but retirement now is not an option: like a third of all Americans, he's had to crack open his nest egg.

"I was able to save some money in that direction and that's what I've been living on," he said.

"And how much longer can you live on that?' Smith asked.

"Oh, probably another two months, six days and 17 minutes, something like that," he laughed.

And if the waiting is tough on him, it's torture for his two daughters.

"I'm worried they're going to lose the house," said his daughter Michelle. "I try not to be worried, but I am. You know, he's been out of work for almost a year and a half. This is ridiculous. Someone needs to hire him, you know?"

"What's it like for you guys to see him go through this?" asked Smith.

"It's really frustrating for me, 'cause I don't like to see his frustration or hear his frustration," said Michelle. "And so I want to do everything I can to help him."

Boxall said he's sure in his gut that he will work again: "As long as I am physically able, I will work."

And he may be able to work longer than he thought.

"We looked at data over a 15-year period and found that the changes that occur to people from even age 65 to age 79 were not dramatic," said Boston College's Jacquelyn James. "Even at age 79, people could do most anything they wanted to."

James said people at that age keep expecting to fall apart. "And when they don't, it's a gift."

But for now, Boxall still has to keep looking.

"I know there's a few people out there that I know personally that take on the 'poor me' attitude," he said. "Well, I'm not taking on that 'poor me' attitude. Still the best damn country in the world.

"I'll still send out resumes just in case

Shortly after our interview, Gary Boxhall knocked on a few more doors, and found a part-time job in auto sales. It's not ideal ... but at age 65, it's a start.

For more info:
"The New Unemployables" (Boston College/Rutgers University)