Biases Against Older Workers Unfounded

October 8, 2022

“Employers have certain biases about older workers,” says Carl Van Horn, founding director at the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University and professor at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. “They aren’t tech savvy—wrong. They cost more with healthcare—wrong. They don’t deal well with younger workers—wrong.”

The stereotypes are deeply wrong but hiring prejudices like these among employers are why older workers more often fall into the ranks of the long-term unemployed than their younger peers. (Government statisticians define the long-term unemployed as those without work for at least six months.)  Adds Van Horn: “Unemployment takes an enormous emotional toll on older workers. They fear that they will go into economic ruin.”

The prospect of a recession which may or may not happen over the next year or so is sobering. Among individuals there isn’t much you can do to prepare for the prospect of getting laid off during an economic downturn beyond the basics of nurturing your network, shoring up household finances, and making sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are up-to-date. “Don’t drive yourself crazy worrying about it,” says Van Horn. “But be prepared to pivot.”

An intriguing experiment in New Jersey suggests the promise from developing a coordinated support network targeted at the older long-term unemployed. The New Start Career Network was a six-year experiment launchedin 2015 and run by the Heldrich Center and partners. The statewide experiment helped older (ages 45-plus) long-term unemployed New Jerseyans find work. Key to the experiment was the network of volunteer career coaches who offered free one-on-one and group coaching sessions. Their support was supplemented with a range of free services, such as tutorials on improving LinkedIn profiles and training for job interviews. The program also emphasized networking and peer encouragement.

 (The experiment ended earlier this year. Van Horn hopes that institutions and advocates involved in working with the long-term unemployed will take advantage of the insights gleaned from the experiment.)

Market Watch 10/8/22

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