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Median Job Tenure Rises, but There's a Catch

Recessions may not discriminate, but this one is taking a particularly tough toll on employees with fewer years on the job.

That’s the finding of a new employee-tenure report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that finds the median number of years wage and salary workers have been with their employers has increased from 4.1 years in 2008 to 4.4 years in January 2010. The report’s findings don’t point toward an increase in employee longevity, however. They are a reflection of the hard reality that less-tenured employees get the boot more often.

In other words, recession-induced  job losses are taking less-tenured employees out of the statistical mix, giving employees with more years of service more statistical weight.

This is important because tenure information often is used as a gauge of employment security – increases generally signify improved security and decreases reflect deteriorating job security. But this year’s data turn that conventional wisdom on its head.

“During recessions or other periods of declining job security, median tenure and the proportion of workers with long tenure could rise because less-senior workers are more likely to lose their jobs than are workers with longer tenure,” BLS wrote, adding that improving economic conditions such as fewer layoffs and good job placements could boost employee-tenure data.

The report also detailed tenure by certain demographics.

- Older workers ages 55 to 64 tallied a higher median tenure (10 years) than their younger counterparts, ages 25 to 34 (3.1 years). And more than half of all workers ages 60 to 64 were employed for at least 10 years with their current employer in January, compared with just 13 percent of individuals between 30 to 34 years old.

- Median tenure for men was slightly higher than for women , 4.6 years to 4.2. Among men, 30 percent had at least 10 years of tenure with their current employer compared with 28 percent among women.

- Twenty percent of Hispanics had been with their current employer for 10 years or more in January as opposed to 30 percent for Caucasians, 26 percent for African-Americans and 21 percent  for Asian-Americans.

“The shorter tenure among Hispanic workers can be explained, in part, by their relative youth,” BLS wrote.

Forty-six percent of Hispanic workers were between 16 and 34 years old compared with 35 percent for Caucasians, 38 percent for African-Americans and 36 percent for Asian-Americans.