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Utah’s younger workers hit hardest by job losses in pandemic

FILE - In this July 18, 2020 file photo a closed sign hangs in the window of a barber shop in Burbank, Calif. A new study showed while older workers were hit harder in other states, in Utah, it's younger workers struggling to find work in the pandemic. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — Older workers continue to face higher job losses than their younger counterparts across the country during the pandemic, but in Utah younger workers are filing the largest number of jobless claims.

For the first time in almost 50 years, workers 55 and older lost jobs sooner, were rehired slower and continue to face higher job losses than workers ages 35 to 54, according to a study released Oct. 20 by The New School in New York City.

It is the first time since 1973 that such a severe unemployment gap has persisted for six months or longer, according to the Associated Press.

It typically takes workers older than 50 twice as long to find work as it does for younger workers, said the AARP, which represents the interests of older Americans.

Utah perspective on jobs

Mark Knold, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, joined Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic. They talked about the financial impact of this study nationally and here in Utah.

Knold pointed out that the national labor force is older than it is in Utah. He added that workers 55 and older account for only 16% of the state’s unemployment claims. The highest segment is the 25- through 34-year-olds at 28%. And for workers 25 and younger and 35- to 44-year-olds, both account for 20% of unemployment claims in Utah, said Knold. 

Older workers

He stressed that even in the best of economies, older workers have a more difficult time finding another job.

“I don’t want to say that there’s age discrimination; I think there is age trepidation in hiring,” Knold said.

He said employers invest for the long term in their employees and may find a 35-year-old job candidate a better hire than someone 55 or older.

“You’re going to invest in that worker and they’re going to stay with you longer. Somebody older, I can invest in you also, but what do you have for me? Five years, eight years versus 18 to 25 years?”

Lee pointed out that older workers because of their experience may expect a higher salary than younger workers.

Knold expects more younger workers to file unemployment claims than in normal times because of the types of industries hit hardest.

“The number one industry hit the hardest here is the leisure and hospitality industry,” he said, which is composed mainly of recreation, entertainment, restaurants and hotels. 

Knold said workers 25 years or younger hold 38% of hospitality jobs; they represent just 19% of jobs across the range of Utah’s economy. 

The industry that represents half of all job losses during the pandemic; it is still losing positions dominated by younger workers, who are filing more jobless claims than they would in normal times, Knold said. 

Speed of economy’s downfall

What is your biggest surprise arising from the coronavirus pandemic? Lee asked.

“Speed — in terms of  how it just took the economy from 60 to zero in no time,” Knold said. “. . . You know things come to an end, but we couldn’t see some sign of an internal, economic problem that was going to jump up and shut down the economy . . . and overnight, boom, an external shock hits us in the form of a pandemic. It took the economy from 60 to zero in a matter of two to three weeks. I’ve never seen anything happen that quickly, so that was the real shock.”

Knold said there’s is nothing intrinsic in the economy to prevent a rebound to pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re almost there right now in Utah. I would say by the end of the year or early part of January, we’ll get back to zero [job losses] or neutrality,” Knold said.

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.