ST. LOUIS — Larry Wilson quit counting his employment applications about the time he sent his 100th into the job search maw.
Working as a substitute teacher the past five years, and having pretty much abandoned any hope of landing full-time work, Wilson waxes philosophical about the odds facing a displaced worker older than the age of 50.
"We all know that people are supposedly created equal, and that there's no discrimination," said the 57-year-old Wilson, a resident of St. Charles County, Mo., who was last employed full-time eight years ago. "Then there's the real world."
Reality is an unemployment rate among the 55-and-older crowd that has risen by 103 percent since the onset of the recession, according to a data analysis by the AARP.
Equally sobering is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notation of the 56 weeks, on average, that unemployed job-seekers older than 55 wait to find a new job.
Job searches for the remainder of the unemployed population end at the 38-week mark.
Older workers with a wealth of experience contend the reasons for their difficulties are both obvious and unstated.
"It's difficult to prove without a shadow of doubt that it's discrimination," AARP President Robert Romasco said during a recent visit to St. Louis. "But if you talk to anyone over 50 looking for a job, you know they're not feeling the love."
Older job-seekers suspect employers harbor assumptions that experienced employees will command higher salaries, strain the budgets for employee health care and lag behind younger workers in adapting to the latest technology.
Michael McCarty, a director of Business Persons Between Jobs and an adjunct marketing instructor at Maryville University and St. Louis University, said he believes the suspicions make sense.
"It's the nub of the jobs crisis that hiring managers won't or can't acknowledge," McCarty said. "If someone has been employed in a single profession or with a single company, they are deemed too old and too expensive to hire."
Larry Wilson, for all intents and purposes, worked steadily from the moment he "was able to ride a bike and deliver papers" until his 2004 layoff as an accounts manager assisting the business operations of a Japanese firm in North and South America.
"If you look at my resume, it looks like I'd cost a fortune," he said. A hiring manager might think "he covered both North and South America; he must have made at least $100,000, so he won't settle for $50,000-$60,000. That's what I would think if I was on the other side of the desk. Your experience doesn't work for you anymore; it works against you."
Wilson in fact would settle for an annual salary in the $50,000 range.
Experts say a willingness to move in another career direction is essential if laid off employees of a certain age are to have any chance of returning to the full-time workforce.
Laid off as an executive assistant in April, Daisy Wilson, 51, is actively seeking a position that will capitalize on a recently earned Lindenwood University degree in human resources management.
"You either reinvent or retreat," said Wilson, Larry Wilson's wife. "I choose to reinvent."