Jobless Older Americans Are Flat Out of Luck

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By Joe Guzzardi

Joe is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow whose commentaries about California's social issues have run in newspapers throughout California and the country for nearly 30 years. Contact Joe at joeguzzardi@capsweb.org, or find him on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.

The writer's views are his own.

March 16, 2011
No demographic has been spared from the job loss devastation that has ripped apart middle class America for nearly three years. With legal immigration grinding on as it creates about 1.5 million new workers every year and with interior enforcement no more than an occasional token gesture, millions of Americans have understandably stopped looking for work. According to Census Bureau data, the percentage of foreign-born in the labor force has been rising steadily since 1970 and has increased from 4.3 million to 23.9 million workers as of 2007. Expressed in percentages, the increase has soared from 5.2 to 15.9 percent. Stated a different way, one in six workers employed in America is foreign-born. Unrelenting legal immigration is the driving force behind the increases in the foreign-born labor pool. And legal immigration also explains the lofty U-6 unemployment rate which includes Americans who are no longer seeking employment or who have settled for a part time job. Since many of those jobs are often held by a foreign-born legal immigrant, the U-6 rate has been as high as 17.5 in recent months. Of all the devastated Americans, none is more likely to abandon hope than a laid off, over-50 worker whose prospects are the worst for any age group in at least five recessions. They are the involuntarily retired. Nationwide, the average unemployed worker age 55 or older looked for a job without success for 10 months last year, the longest stretch on record. Tellingly, age-discrimination complaints to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have risen every year since 2007. According to Richard W. Johnson, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, being unemployed feeds on itself. Said Johnson: "The longer you're unemployed, the harder it is to find a job." For workers over 62, only 18 percent who lost a job found a new one in within a year. In a January 2011 story, Baltimore Sun reporter Jamie Smith Hopkins told of several recently fired Maryland residents who are living on the edge. Not all are unskilled. For example Eve Prietz, a 54-year-old lawyer, has been out of work for three years, has depleted her savings and faces foreclosure. Before immigration overwhelmed America, older workers who lost their jobs could count on generating at least some income from either full or part time employment. But a large percentage of those lower paying or part time jobs are now held by foreign-born workers. In his recent study Andrew Sum, an economist at Boston’s Northeastern University found that from 2008 to 2010, 1.1 million new migrants who have entered America since 2008 landed jobs, even as U.S. household employment declined by 6.26 million during that same period. The best solution to this problem would be an immigration moratorium. Short of that, the least Congress can do is strictly limit legal immigration and withhold work permits from new immigrants until the nation reaches full employment.
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