Recession hit older tech workers harder, labor data shows

Older women in computer, math jobs face unemployment rates near 10%

Unemployment rates for older IT workers increased during the recession faster than they did for younger employees, according to new U.S. government labor data obtained by Computerworld. But that's something that Maribeth McIntyre, an IT professional with some 30 years of experience, already suspected.

McIntyre was laid off from her job of seven years in early 2007 at age 55. Until that layoff, finding a job had "always been as easy it can be," so she hit the then still-growing pre-recession IT job market to look for a new job in her area of expertise: as a business system analyst and project manager specializing in HR and payroll applications.

In 2007, McIntyre said she had two or three phone interviews a week and many in-person interviews that were often enthusiastic and seemingly successful. But it was eight months before she landed a consulting job. "I was beginning to suspect it was an age problem," she said.

What is certain is that unemployment for people 55 years and older has become a problem, especially during the past two years. In the U.S. government's "computer and mathematical occupations" category, the overall unemployment rate jumped from 6% to 8.4% from 2009 to 2010, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For women 55 and older, the unemployment rate hit 9.4%. For men in that age group, it was 8%.

Meanwhile, unemployment declined for workers in that category who were between 25 and 54, dropping from 5.1% in 2009 to 4.5% in 2010 (see chart below).

The recession ended McIntyre's consulting job, so she found contract work for a few months in 2009 and last year landed a six-month contract gig that recently ended.

McIntyre, who keeps an online journal on the Daily Kos Web site (under the name Embee), had noticed other older workers talking about the problem of finding work. Seeing a trend, she started an online forum called the "50+ and Unemployed (Underemployed) Support Group" this month and got lots of positive feedback about the endeavor.

McIntyre said the forum is for sharing ideas and venting, because "after a while, your friends don't want to hear it anymore," she said with a laugh.

Although the labor data confirmed what McIntyre believed to be the case about the labor market, it didn't stop her from calling the unemployment numbers for older workers "scary." Story continues on next page

U.S. unemployment rates


  25-54 yrs. 55+ yrs. All 16+  
  2009 2010 2009 2010 2009 2010
Total population 8.2 8.5 6.5 7.0 8.6 8.9
  All professional 4.2 4.1 4.3 4.6 4.4 4.5
    All computer & math 5.1 4.5 6.0 8.4 5.2 5.2
    Architecture & engineering 6.2 5.2 9.9 9.4 6.9 6.2
    Life, physical, social science 4.3 4.2 4.0 5.5 4.5 4.6
    Community & social service 3.8 4.7 4.3 2.9 4.3 4.6
    Legal 3.6 2.7 2.8 2.3 3.4 2.7
    Education, training, library 3.8 4.1 3.7 3.6 4.1 4.2
    Health 2.3 2.3 2.1 2.7 2.3 2.5
    Arts, entertainment, sports, media 8.0 8.1 7.4 8.4 8.4 8.9
Male all 9.1 9.2 7.0 7.7 9.7 9.8
  Male professional 4.5 4.3 4.6 5.1 4.8 4.9
    Male computer & math 5.1 4.3 4.9 8.0 5.1 5.1
Female all 7.0 7.6 6.0 6.2 7.4 7.9
  Female professional 4.0 4.0 4.1 4.1 4.2 4.2
    Female computer & math 5.2 5.1 8.9 9.4 5.7 5.7
Rates are percentage of total workers in each category. Data comes from the federal Current Population Survey of about 50,000 U.S. households conducted monthly. Margin of error for these demographic slices was unavailable. Workers are counted in a profession's unemployment pool only if their previous job was in that field and if they've been in the workforce within the past few years, thus factoring out both new graduates and those who have been out of the workforce for some time.
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