COVID-19: Older workers suffer biggest annual employment hit since 1980s

Over-50s have suffered their biggest annual fall in employment since the 1980s as a result of the COVID-19 economic crisis, according to new figures.

A study by the Resolution Foundation found that while under-25s have been by far the worst affected by the hit to jobs caused by the pandemic, the cost of being laid off can be particularly high for older workers.

They take longer to return to work and suffer the biggest hit to incomes when they do so, it found.

Workers aged 16-24 saw employment numbers fall by 3.9% over the past year compared to 0.7% for 25-49-year olds and 1.4% for those aged 50-69, the study found.

The setback for older employees comes after a period of near-continuous employment growth for that age group since the mid-1990s, the study showed, with men over 50 experiencing only a relatively small drop in employment in the wake of the financial crisis.

Meanwhile the rate of employment of women in the workforce climbed from 46% in 1990 to 68% on the eve of the pandemic.

The cost of being laid off as an older worker was highlighted by figures showing that six months after losing their jobs, just 62% of over-50s had returned to employment, compared to nearly three-quarters of those in younger age groups.

Over-50s also face having to work for less, typically seeing a 9.5% fall in hourly pay compared to what they were earning before they were made unemployed.

That compared to a 4% wage hit for 25-49-year-olds and a 5.1% boost for under-25s.

Nye Cominetti, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “The COVID-19 crisis has had a U-shaped effect on people’s employment prospects.

“While the youngest workers have been hardest hit by the crisis, older workers have also been badly affected, experiencing the biggest annual fall in employment since at least the 1980s.

“The cost of unemployment for older workers is particularly high.

“They take the longest to return to work – with fewer than two-in-three returning within six months – and experience the biggest earnings fall when they finally to return to work.

“In the face of the current crisis, unemployed older workers may have to either work for longer to make up for these negative employment effects, or retire earlier than they planned to.

“The government must ensure that older workers are not forgotten in the design and implementation of schemes created in the wake of the crisis to help people back into work.”

Latest official figures show the number of people in payrolled employment was 813,000 lower in March 2021 than a year earlier.

The official unemployment rate has risen since last year to stand at around 5%, with the government’s furlough scheme helping to prevent a more significant surge in joblessness during lockdowns.

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