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?”