The Future of Today's Elder Workers
Monday, 27 September 2010
Unoubtedly you saw the news last Monday that the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) – the group of economists who read the tea leaves to determine the state of our economy – announced that our great recession officially ended more than a year ago, in June 2009.
Snark Alert: that must have been a relief to 57-year-old Patricia Reid, a college-educated business analyst unemployed for the past four years.
On the same day as the NEBR announcement, she was profiled by The New York Times in a story about middle- and late-aged workers who fear they may never work again.
That's not hyperbole; I learned how real it is even before the economy imploded. Back in 2004-05, I spent a year fruitlessly banging my head against a wall of age discrimination. From my shortened resume and a telephone interviews, 20-something hiring managers thought I was hot stuff, but they quickly backtracked when they saw me in person.
There were still plenty of jobs back then – my young colleagues who were caught in the same layoff I was found jobs in six or eight or ten weeks but not me. I cannot imagine how awful it must be for 50- and 60-somethings looking for work now.
I had no idea then how lucky the timing was when what turned out to be my last job ended. When I gave up looking for work after a year, I was 64, only one year from being eligible for Medicare and two years from full Social Security.
Although I had spent three years with no income during two bouts of unemployment over the previous seven years, had cashed in most of my 401(k) and was tens of thousands of dollars in debt, what I did have was my home in Manhattan which by then was worth about six or seven times what I had paid for it 23 year earlier. And houses were still selling.
Today, most of the middle- and late-aged unemployed don't have the options I had. Many, like Patricia Reid, are years from Medicare and Social Security. They have lost their homes to foreclosure or the value has plummeted, often below what they owe. If they had any savings left after the 2008 crash, they have decimated it to pay living costs. As has been widely reported, those who can find a job are working at salaries far below what they were previously paid.
But those are just words you've read in the news a zillion times. Here is what it means for real life old age:
When they do reach full Social Security age, their benefits will be substantially lower than if they had been able to continue the usual trajectory of their careers.
Those with no choice but to take early Social Security at 62, will see even smaller monthly checks.
Having lost all or a great deal of their savings in the crash or to pay the bills during their unemployment, they will have little or no income in addition to Social Security.
If they lost their home to foreclosure, they will need to rent for the rest of their lives and that won't be easy. Due to so many forced from their homes, rents are returning to premium levels in many cities.
If their mortgage is under water, not only will they see no equity after years of payments, they will owe a substantial amount even if they can sell in today's marketplace.
So, many who did all the right things to prepare for their old age will be living hand to mouth, scrambling to pay for the basics of life every day for the rest of their lives, which can be 25 or 30 years. Is it any wonder across-the-political-spectrum rage at Wall Street salaries and bonuses does not subside?
News stories lament the predicament of recent graduates who cannot find a first job. I feel their pain, but they do have 40 or 50 years to build a nest egg that older workers do not. And aside from that New York Times piece last week, there is nary a word about the impoverished old age millions of older people are now stuck with, without recourse. Even if they found a reasonably well-paying job today, there are not the years left in their work lives to repay their debt and recoup their losses.
Nevertheless, most Republicans, tea partiers and some Democrats want to cut Social Security and Medicare.
What brought on my imagining the future of these soon-to-be elders was Saul Friedman's Gray Matters column on Saturday.
He wrote of Ohio Democratic Representative Marcy Kaptur's bill, HR 4318, which would authorize the president to re-establish the CCC, a program that put millions of young men to work during the Great Depression. Those young men were doing mostly physical labor. Kaptur's bill eliminates the age and gender limits, and keep in mind that for every project involving manual labor, there are related support jobs that older people can do.
To me, this a no brainer. We are in desperate times. Young kids just out school can delay their career dreams a few years (as they did in the Depression) to earn some money while helping rebuild the nation's infrastructure, and it would be a lifeline for older workers who otherwise have few options.
I can't think of a better way to spend the next “stimulus” now that the federal government has so munificently helped out Wall Street workers.
Maybe your congressperson doesn't know about Marcy Kaptur's bill. You might want to inform him or her which you can do here in the right column under the header, GetInvolved.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: The “Good Old Days?”
Thanks for posting this on Facebook, Ronni! I did not read Saul's column and was glad to learn about the bill to bring back the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Posted by: Alexandra | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 06:04 AM
What was most depressing, to me, about the NY Times article were the blame-the-victim comments. But I also wondered why the Times decided to profile someone whose story was so easy to dismiss; taking vacations to Thailand and Turkey seems like an atypical thing to do when you have no income, even 4 years ago- before the economy crashed - and at age 53.
Posted by: mary jamison | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 06:25 AM
Rep.Marcy Kaptur has the right idea with her Bill to bring back the CCC.
According to Wikipedia the following are just a few of the thousands of men who participated in the original program.
Hyman G. Rickover, 4-star Admiral, former Corps Area Commander
Raymond Burr, actor, former enrollee
Archie Moore, the Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World, former enrollee
Robert Mitchum, actor, former enrolee
Edward R. Roybal, politician, former enrollee
Chuck Yeager, test pilot, former enrollee
Stan Musial, baseball player, former enrollee
Walter Matthau, actor, former enrolee
Red Schoendienst, baseball player/manager, former enrollee
Conrad L. Wirth, U.S. administrator, National Park Service supervisor of CCC Program..
I won't even go into the roads,bridges,dams,National parks and other projects that were completed by the CCC. It's a matter of public
record how successful the program was.
But John of Orange and Mighty Mitch will probably shout a resounding "NO" when asked to vote on it.
Posted by: Nancy | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 06:27 AM
Nancy: Not only would the Republican House and Senate leaders say "NO" -- they'd say a CCC type program was actually slave labor in concentration camps. We are at a sorry time.
Posted by: janinsanfran | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 07:25 AM
There is another bill that is about to expire; it's the "Put Americans to Work" bill that was enacted with the stimulus money. I wish I could provide the link to write your congressperson here requesting that this bill be extended for another year.
My daughter, who will be 50 in January, has a story similar to yours, Ronni. She spent two years sending out resumes while living up her proceeds from their home sale. She finally got a job that she loves through this program, but it barely covers the basics with no benefits. Her rent was just increased $50 a month and housing eats up 62% of her income. It should only be 29%. She is one pay check away from being homeless.
These stories are not unique. I don't know what it will take to give a conscience to the Republicans and a spine to the Democrats.
Posted by: Darlene | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 07:46 AM
As mentioned in the past? I lost my main job and now have one at 60%, but 60% of a lot which is not half bad compared to my pears (in 60's). However, this was ONLY company that wanted to hire me; The owner is my friend (thank God for networking). All other interviews didn't even bother to call me back. When I lose this job or walk away, I will never ever get another real job again. It's a long story but in line with what Ronni says.
Posted by: john | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 08:14 AM
Feels like a sack of cement on my back constantly - worrying about my adult children's money crises, my aging mother and mother-in-law, and my own future.
I take Scarlett's advice to heart: "I can't think about this now; I'll think about it tomorrow."
Tomorrow may be another day, but I doubt it will bring any relief soon.
Posted by: Cowtown Pattie | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 08:59 AM
Remember "Got Hope"? It was Obama's mantra during the primaries. I've still got the bumper sticker on my truck. It's not scratched or peeling but I'm going to scrape it off because there isn't a lot "hope" left. Too many young people are struggling to get a toehold in the job market and many of the 55+ brigade know they'll never see another paycheck.
And the White House says "hang on" but our fingernails won't hold out much longer.
God bless/help America!
Posted by: mythster | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 09:55 AM
Seniors are being cautioned not to put themselves in peril by helping out the kids who are without jobs, or low paying jobs.
That too goes with the territory.
The domino's continue to fall.
Posted by: Helen | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 09:57 AM
I did read the NBER's pronouncments. Makes me furious and a little ill. I keep telling myself one day at a time. Several of our experienced, educated adult children are out of work or hopping from temp job to temp job trying to catch a keeper. A friend's husband laid off at 52, after 20 years teaching prisoners to read and use computers, program gone. Our town's small business advisor laid off, at 54 after 15 years of good service, program gone. So two of investments in the future of our citizens are kaput. Our library's hours are being cut again, children's after school programs are cut and cut. No piddly raises in Social Security but a giant raise in our sewer/garbage bills, and electric bills. Half my IRA evaporated, thank God the house is paid for. None of us are spending any longer, do they really believe that has no impact on the economy? It sure does in this little town.
Posted by: Celia | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 10:18 AM
Folks, The blame does not lay with Republicans OR Democrats but with our Congress--all of them. The disgraceful spend and porkbarrel actions have put not only us at risk but our Nation itself. We MUST insist on ethics and integrity in our elected officials. We not only feel anger and outrage but a sick sense of disillusionment in our Government, by the people and for people! And yes, I am worried too. Hoping I will leave the planet soon!
With all good thoughts and prayers for all--we are in this together!
Posted by: NWD | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 10:46 AM
I, too, read the New York Times story and for the 1,oooth time thanked my lucky stars that, at almost 74, I still have a (part time) job! I can't imagine the anxiety and stark panic that many laid-off workers in their late 50s and 60s must be feeling. What happens to them will--and should--be a major social issue over the next 10-20+ years.
Nancy, I love the titles--John of Orange and Mighty Mitch--but fear I must agree that the only word they will ever utter while Barack Obama is President is NO. We'll be waiting until H--- freezes over for the Republicans to somehow get a conscience, but I think the Democrats may be beginning to grow a spine--at least I sure hope so--even though it may be too late to salvage the November elections.
I truly fear for this country if the tea party types take over. They're already pushing us further and further to the Far Right. It's a real puzzle to me why so many of the tea partyers are 65+. The tea party is NOT on the side of Americans over 50 (e.g., privatize Social Security and adopt a voucher system for healthcare) but has somehow convinced far too many that it is. Go figure.
Posted by: Elizabeth Rogers | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 11:16 AM
The CCC is a great idea. If we hadn't refinanced just before G was laid off, we too would have been in a world of hurt. Tho we now owe more on our condo than before, our payments are vastly less and we have money set aside. Perhaps we too would have benefited from a reborn CCC if G hadn't of found a job after 14 months of unemployment.
Posted by: Mage B | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 12:26 PM
On another note, as an aging senior, the pace that I must keep to hold my job is beyond belief. I am in good shape and work out regularly and have good stamina but I am at my limit and each year it's harder to hold my own. Just wait until they raise SS to age 70! We can't find jobs and if we do, they want us to be like a 21 year old or go away. I was offered the greeter job at walmart recently--that's my fallback job. Isn't all this simply terrible?
Posted by: john | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 12:28 PM
Thanks for the link, Ronni. I've sent it on.
My 87 year old mother reminds me that there have always been hard times and that people have always been angry at one another and that things will get better because that is the way it will be. Sometimes, a little dementia seems to be good for the soul.
Posted by: Ashleigh Burroughs | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 01:16 PM
John, you've raised a very real concern related to raising the SS age to 70. Although many such jobs have simply evaporated, older workers performing the physically demanding jobs that remain will have a tough time making it to 70. Although I have no idea how implementation would work, I think there needs to be some kind of age-stepped formula for retirement. It's just not a realistic expectation that most miners, plumbers, construction workers or utility installers will be able to work at those jobs into their late 60s.
Posted by: Elizabeth Rogers | Monday, 27 September 2010 at 05:15 PM
Thanks everyone for your comments and especially you, Ronnie, for addressing the real problems aging seniors face today. I was laid off a few months before my 65th birthday. Thankfully I got Medicare, then was able to collect unemployment for the next year while I looked for work, just in time to get full SS. In the meantime I have a part-time job to supplement my SS, but don't know if that will dry up in the very near future. Though I am grateful for the timing of all this, I was just starting to recover from a devastating divorce which left me financially bankrupt. I was hoping to work full-time for at least 5 more years to get some padding in my savings. On well, I guess it could be worse. I am grateful for what I do have.
Posted by: Brenda | Tuesday, 28 September 2010 at 09:20 AM
What I'd like to know was the rational that it took to transfer thousands of jobs overseas. This has resulted in over 17 million (not counting those off the unemployment roles - and those dependant family members) people displaced and out of work.
This country's 330+ million people used to thrive on incomes that enabled production of goods and services - resulting in good schools, roads, houses, and educational opportunities that excelled above all other countries in the world. Why, we even have 300 channels of TV - what other country can beat that?
It wasn't just the Legislative Branch, or the Executive Branch, or the Supreme Court. It was a harmonious concert of all three that conjured up the current situation.
I have been in business for 30+ years and am forced every quarter to create a short term and long term business plan. The best plans change - but the result of proper and thoughtful planning usually does not result in a disaster. And this is a disaster!
Seriously, what were those 530+ men and women who act like our 'board of directors' thinking about, say eight years ago, when they sold us all out of jobs, housing, and education? Do you know?
Posted by: Yellowstone | Tuesday, 28 September 2010 at 12:33 PM
Yellowstone, I don't know exactly what they were thinking, but one thing comes to mind: many of the 530+ were free-market Republicans, so the following reasoning is probably pretty close. Cut taxes for corporations and the wealthiest 1%, gut regulation and business will flourish, thus creating good jobs for American citizens. Well, it didn't exactly work out that way, did it? Corporations found that they could make much more money by taking advantage of cheap foreign labor, so that's what they did.
And, guess what? It looks like we may be about to hand the reins back to the GOP in the November elections. Isn't one definition of insanity continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result? Although President Obama and the Democrats may not have solved all the nation's problems in 21 months, they've made a start. If what we, the people, want is more of what began eight years ago (e.g., two unfunded wars, the Wall Street debacle, and the dismantling of the middle class), then by all means vote Republican!
Posted by: Elizabeth Rogers | Tuesday, 28 September 2010 at 07:10 PM
I know we need to bring about whatever change we can to get people employed and will do my small part to try to help make that happen. The suggestions made here certainly make sense. I am not so naive as to think my life can't be upended, just as that of others could be, who complacently believe their lives, jobs, security are all untouchable.
I empathize with everyone's pain. I can appreciate the age discrimination factor which unbelievably persists even forty years after my husband experienced it. For him only six months went by, a hundred or more letters went out, a few responses and occasional interviews materialized, but they were not easy times, plus we had no children yet. He had returned to University a year earlier, was voluntarily making professional job changes and shockingly, to both of us, encountered an invisible barrier when he began seeking employment. One corporate interviewer finally, told him the truth (likely not possible today because of increased lawsuit potential.) My husband was told:
"I want to hire you, but I know when I send the application and recommendation to corporate office they'll automatically deny your hiring -- because of your age. They want only young people whose thinking they believe they're more able to mold."
My husband was then in his mid-forties.
One of the many differences now is, that there were other opportunities for him then, including returning to the small business of which he had been a part owner, taking other type positions, but in work he chose not to do. We had just bought our first home. Thank heavens I was working, but got a new boss and was subjected to what now is known as sexual harassment (for which people didn't sue back then, either) so I needed to keep my job until I could make a good change. My husband's avocation as a professional musician helped with income, too, but he was simply jobbing around, after having dissolved his groups years earlier and not as many name entertainers were coming to town needing a few select pickup musicians to augment their basic traveling group.
I'm reluctant to fully retire, now at over age 70, due to the uncertainty of the economy and future for those of us who are older. I am grateful the nature of my work allows me to continue part time, and I could return to full time due to personnel shortages, but I don't want to for many reasons. Even now, there are requirements I must fulfill yearly to maintain my license. I would not enjoy having to work full time now, partly because of the necessary demands which would likely subject me to unwanted pressures that could include an expectation for a reduction in the quality of service I provide.
I do believe that ultimately this nation will survive, but the manner in which that is accomplished gives me much concern. Who will shoulder the burden to make this happen? Who and how much will be sacrificed? Will my generation, (the tail end of WWII folks,) the Boomers, and even the generation after them, have decent final years, while select groups do little more than give lip service to our population's needs, if they even do that?
How can so many of the American public be so poorly informed that they often vote into office the very individuals, political party members who are self-serving, cater to the few, and act against the best interest of the majority populace?
Posted by: joared |
Posted by: joared | Wednesday, 29 September 2010 at 12:11 AM
the one point i want to take issue with in this post has to do with the assumption that younger people have the ability to build a nest egg. there's no 'saving' going on when you carry the student loans most college grads do, or are paid as little as most blue collar jobs pay these days. your medical bills (because lots of us don't have health insurance and never did) will wipe out any savings you may be able to scrounge away, and if you live in a "good" job market like a city, you're probably paying some ridiculously large fraction of your income on housing.
i totally understand the terror most older people must be feeling right now wrt employment and SS. i honestly don't expect to get SS- ever. and employment will be rocky at best for the long term foreseeable future. it's nice to think our politicians will change, but short of revolution i just don't see that happening. from my perspective as a 30something, i think i'd rather be older and in the predicament older folks are in. which is bleak, but less bleak than what a lot of us younger people are looking at. which is basically, a lifetime lived during an unending depression. there is too much wealth to be stripped away out of this country, and the jackals that have ahold of it won't let go until the corpse is bare.
Posted by: ChiDy | Wednesday, 29 September 2010 at 08:42 AM
I'm responding personally because not many of my readers go back to
previous posts and maybe you won't either and I'd like you to read
this. I worry about people your age a lot, but the premise of my blog
is old people so I stick to those topics believing that there are a lot
of people of your generation online to do that work (and you do it so
Here are a few of things that have changed for the worse since I was
1. I went to work at 16, the day after I got out of high school in
1958, for a variety of reasons. But had I chosen to go the UC at
Berkeley where I had been accepted, as a California resident I would
have paid $25/year plus books and lab fees. Out-of-state students
didn't pay all that much more. No debt when we were done.
2. They actually taught us stuff in high school back then. After
decades of hiring young people just out of college until my forced
retirement five years ago, I believe that a high school education in my
day was at least the equivalent of a bachelor's degree today. I turned
down most - MOST - college-educated applicants over the last couple of
decades of my working life because they couldn't write a coherent
paragraph. Our educational system is a shambles now and it affects me
directly because I'm old and I want a lot of smart, well-educated,
young people to run the country well.
3. When I was young, even on entry-level salaries, we could afford our
own apartments without doubling and tripling up and could buy old,
rattle-trap cars to get around in. We didn't have much money left over,
but we could have parties serving pasta (well, it was called spagetti
in those days) and cheap wine. We couldn't be extravagant, but we could
afford to go to jazz clubs or whatever else interested us without
breaking our personal banks. Oh, most of us didn't have credit cards
then; you couldn't get those until you had established a consistent
work record for several years (unmarried women couldn't get credit
cards at all) so we lived on cash and struggled until the next payday -
but none of us were deprived and certainly not in debt.
4. Although I didn't, many of my generation married at 18 or 20 and had
kids right away (no birth control yet), could raise their kids on one
salary and even afford to buy a house within a few years.
5. There were plenty of jobs. If you didn't like what you had, you
answered three or four newspaper ads and moved on to the next. In those
days, however, there was not the pressure to build a consistent career
track record immediately. The time young people now spend in college
and graduate school, we spent job-hopping, trying out different kinds
of work, city-hopping too - a year here, six months there just for fun
and to see what it was like elsewhere.
On that last point, work wasn't so deadly serious as it is today. The
rest of life away from the job was considered equally important. An
annual review at work was a five-minute chitchat with the boss about
how much your raise would be. Promotions were awarded whenever there
was a opening and the boss believed you could do it. No 12-page
questionnaires, as was required on my last job every six months,
enumerating exactly what I would accomplish in the coming months and my
estimate of how much revenue that would contribute to the bottom line.
How would I know? I produced network TV shows and, starting in 1995,
news websites. I wasn't paid to know the business side, but I was
suddenly expected to know such things.
I don't envy you or any young people today even without our great
recession/depression. I am firmly convinced that my generation (I'm 69)
spent most of our adult lives in what is, in the greater scheme of
things, a tiny bubble of time when most people could find reasonably
well-paying jobs, raise families without too much economic worry and
have plenty of time and resources to enjoy life. That will not happen
again in your lifetime.
Also during my younger and midyears, great advances were made in health
care, civil rights, women's rights, technology, science - things that
young people take for granted now (and should) and I'm proud to have
done my part. I'm not so proud of where our country and the planet is
now, but I don't know what I personally could have done differently. I
was lucky to have been born when I was and my life has been infinitely
easier than yours is or will be.
I'm not quite there yet, but I move closer to your suspicion that
nothing will get better without another revolution. But that will have
to be your generation's job. I'm here for moral support, but the energy
(I suspect this is the basis of a post next week.)
Thank you for writing - it's terrific to hear from a 30-something on
these things. Oh, and you're correct about the center having moved to
the right. Crabby Old Lady was way too wound up to be clear about a
couple of things she was writing.
Posted by: Ronni Bennett | Wednesday, 29 September 2010 at 10:16 AM
WOW! This is excellent, and I was going to suggest you copy and paste for a post, but see you recognize the value of what you have written so eloquently here.
You described the life well that we enjoyed which truly seems wonderful compared to the present.
I do hope ChiDy and the generations younger than us do understand that we Elders are not greedily determined to pad our lives at their expense -- that what we want is a better life for them, too -- my children and grandchildren for whom I'm willing to make sacrifices. BUT, the point is, we shouldn't have to be making these sacrifices and their are ways to make that true.
Posted by: joared | Wednesday, 29 September 2010 at 08:09 PM