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Aging Committee Hearing Focuses on Reducing Long-Term Unemployment Among Older Workers

Washington - Today, Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Herb Kohl convened a hearing on the growing problem of long-term unemployment among older workers.

"While many Americans were hit hard by this recession, many older workers continue to feel its lingering effects," Kohl said. "Although older workers were less likely to lose their jobs than their younger counterparts, once they did, they struggled more to find work again."

According to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) reportmade public at the hearing, the number of long-term unemployed workers aged 55 and older has more than doubled since the recession began in late 2007.  About 55 percent of unemployed older workers, or 1.1 million, have been unemployed for more than six months, up from 23 percent, or less than 200,000, in 2007.

"Left unchecked, long-term unemployment among older workers is a problem that will continue to grow as our workforce grays," Kohl said. "Only four years from now, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that nearly one in four workers will be over the age of 55."

GAO's Director of Education, Workforce and Income Security group Charles Jeszeck told the committee that long-term unemployment among older workers significantly reduced retirement income, particularly for those with defined contribution retirement plans. He said the report showed that these older workers often had to use their retirement savings and begin drawing on Social Security before they were old enough to receive full benefits.

According to the GAO report, "These workers also have the most retirement income to lose by becoming unemployed."

The hearing also highlighted an innovative Connecticut-based program called Platform to Employment that works individually with those out of work older workers to ensure they have updated skills to thrive in today's economy. The program, started by witness Joseph Carbone, partners with local businesses to place these workers into internships. So far, 70 percent of those internships have turned into jobs.

"Bringing the long term unemployed to a platform of readiness, emotionally and professionally, is critical as the job market recovers," Carbone said.

The hearing included testimony from Sheila Whitelaw, an older worker from Philadelphia who described her struggle against long-term unemployment.

"At this point, I don't really expect to retire, even if I am able to find a job. I plan to keep working as long as I am physically able, and I am blessed to be in good health," Whitelaw said. "Contrary to what many employers think, age is just a number. My age does not define my ability, negate my work experience, or reduce my dedication to the job at hand."

Kohl also announced his signing on as a cosponsor of the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, a bill authored by Senators Harkin and Grassley that is aimed at restoring the rights of older workers to pursue claims of age discrimination.