Analysis shows Covid impact of long-term unemployment on men over 50

New analysis shows men over 50 are the most likely to suffer long-term unemployment as a result of Covid.

Older man looking serious


Chris Long will turn 60 in March. Despite having a broad skillset, gleaned from jobs ranging from working in mental health and addiction services to security and driving a forklift, he has been out of work for the past three years.  Chris, who has a family to support, gave up his job around the time Covid hit due to a lung condition, which means his health is up and down, although there are many days when he feels fit enough to work.

Chris is one of nearly 200,000 men aged 50 and older who were out of work between September and November 2021. That number represents an increase of 24% in two years – and 50% of them were unemployed for at least a year, according to new analysis of Office for National Statistics figures by  Rest Less, a digital community and advocate for people in their 50s, 60s and beyond.

The analysis shows that unemployed men aged 50+ are significantly more likely to be in long-term unemployment (out of work for at least a year) than any other age group. Some 27% of men aged 18-24 were out of work for more than a year and 40% of men aged 25-49 were looking for work for 12 months or more.

In September – November 2021, there were 99,000 men aged 50+ out of work for at least 12 months – up from 59,000 (a 69% increase) in the same time period two years prior.  A significant 28% of unemployed men aged 50 and older were unemployed for two years or more (up from 25% two years ago).

Stuart Lewis, Founder of Rest, said: “Our analysis shines a light on the many individuals who have so much to contribute to the workplace, but who are being left behind by the recovery. Unemployment amongst people aged over 50 is up 23% compared with pre-Covid levels. The fact that half of all unemployed men aged over 50 have been unemployed for more than 12 months is shocking and a timely wake-up call to government and industry that we need to do more to ensure that our post-pandemic jobs plan supports people of all ages.

“Contrary to the belief that this is an age group with all the money, the reality for many 50 and 60 year olds could not be further from the truth.  Faced with a rapidly increasing state pension age and widespread ageism in the recruitment process, once out of work, many struggle to make ends meet until they reach the safety net of the state pension.”Today’s cohort of 50 and 60 year olds fall between the cracks of missing out on the gold-plated final salary pensions their parents enjoyed, whilst missing out on a full working life under new pensions auto-enrolment.”

The need to do more to tackle long-term unemployment

Rest Less also compared the latest long-term unemployment by age group data with two years ago, pre-Covid.  The analysis shows that the pandemic has exacerbated long-term unemployment amongst all age groups. Across all age groups over the past two years, the proportion of people unemployed for at least 12 months has increased.

Lewis added: “The long-term unemployment of any group of individuals is bad news for everyone.  We’d like to see the government provide more targeted support, retraining and career re-entry points to unemployed workers in their 50s and 60s.”

Older women have also been hard hit by the pandemic and are the most likely to have dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic, often becoming economically inactive as a result. The number of older women who are economically inactive has increased by 124,000 in two years (or 6%). The Institute for Employment Studies has highlighted that more needs to be done to get them back into the workforce.

Emily Andrews, Deputy Director for Evidence at the Centre for Ageing Better, said:  “The shape of the post-pandemic employment crisis is now clear, and it’s the over 50s who are hardest hit, suffering the consequence of an ageist labour market.

“Following many years of growth, the employment rate among 50-64s is now falling. As well as those who are now unemployed, we are seeing large numbers who are leaving the workforce altogether.

“But, the large investment made in the Plan for Jobs gives the Government a huge opportunity to ensure that 50+ jobseekers are provided with tailored, individualised support from trained advisors.

“Now is the time for DWP to ensure it is tackling the biggest problem it faces; by setting high service standards for 50+ clients, encouraging innovative practice among their providers, and gathering robust data on effective practice so that future generations can reap the benefits.

“In an increasingly tight labour market, seeing more over 50s in the labour market is a win for everyone.”

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