Some Impressions About Our World
GRAY MATTERS: Raising the Retirement Age?

Over 50 and Out of Work

When I was 63 back in 2004, I found myself unemployed when the company I had been with for three years suddenly laid off a group of us. How they handled the firings was a nasty, humiliating business that no one deserves, and it got worse.

As my younger colleagues, talented but less experienced than I, found work in six, eight, 10 weeks or so, I couldn't get an interview. Indications of age discrimination turned up during my efforts but the other debilities of being jobless were too frightening for that to anger me at the time. Survival required that I ignore it.

Because I had been a contract employee, I was not ineligible for unemployment insurance. When savings were gone, I shuffled through credit card cash advances to pay the bills while robbing one credit card to pay others. The debt mounted to terrifying numbers.

Any of you who have been unemployed for a length of time know how small life becomes. You cancel subscriptions, stop going to the movies, never eat in restaurants and shop miserly for food. You make what you hope are plausible excuses when friends invite you for drinks or dinner and soon they stop calling. Your days are bleak no matter how bright the sun shines and you wonder how long you can hold on, afraid to think too closely about what will become of you.

In 2004, the unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, down slightly from the previous year and fairly average for a healthy economy. Today, the unemployment rate has been stuck at 9.6 percent for months.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, 14.8 million workers are unemployed. But that doesn't count the underemployed, part-timers who need full-time jobs and the discouraged people who have given up. Some put that total number at more than 26 million – about one in six workers.

Millions and millions of lives shattered. How many will never recover?

Without taking anything away from younger workers in this devastation, older workers 50 and above are in a dreadful position. They have spent their savings, 401(k)s and IRAs to keep afloat. How are they going to pay for their retirement which, for many, has already arrived whether they know it yet or not and they are still years from being old enough for Social Security.

And by the way, their Social Security benefits will be lower than anticipated due to long periods of unemployment during prime earning years.

Earlier this year, four people of disparate backgrounds created a multimedia project titled Over 50 and Out of Work. Since February, they have been traveling the U.S. to interview older, unemployed workers. As they state on their Facebook page, their project:

“...documents the stories and the impact of the Great Recession on jobless Americans, 50 and older. The stories that Boomers tell are not only about the hardships they have faced due to joblessness, but also about their hopes and fears, their expectations and disappointments, their resilience and their dreams.”

Their longer-term mission, they say,

” to help people who are over 50 and out of work get back into the labor force by improving the cultural perception of older workers and by influencing public policy changes that will make it easier for them to find re-employment.”

The interviews are beautifully shot and edited, the subjects are smart, articulate and this overview video is as uplifting in some ways as it is heartbreaking.

(Over 50 and Out of Work Trailer from Over Fifty and Out of Work on Vimeo)

You can watch individual interviews at the project website. Their goal is one hundred interviews and if you are an older unemployed worker, you can apply to tell your story here.

I was luckier than these people in that my long-term unemployment happened before the housing bubble burst and as much as it broke my heart to do so, I was able to sell my apartment in New York at a substantial profit, making up for the loss of my savings and paying off my debt. Until the day I die, I will be grateful that my unemployment happened before the crash; I do not want to imagine what my retirement would be like if it had not.

Few of today's older unemployed have the option I had and my heart breaks for them.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Small-Town Saturday Night


It is hard enough to find a job for those over 40 much less 50 and above. My daughter will be 50 in January and she spent all of her savings plus going deeply into debt in the two years she sent out resume after resume. She only got two interviews during that time. She got both jobs as a part time sales lady with below minium wage pay and no benefits. She accepted one, but it meant leaving her two teenage daughters alone until ten at night, her pay was barely covering her gas to get to work. She quit the job and finally found an office jobe utilizing her skills.

She found this job through a government program 'putting America to work' that was part of the stimulus. The government subsidized her wages the first year and she is fortunate that she didn't lose her job when the subsidy ended. Many people who were hired through this program were let go when the subsidy ended.

Congress ,in it's continuing stupidity, did not renew the program at the end of the year even though it was very successful.

I weep for all the shattered lives that the recession has created. I don't know how elders will exist on Social Security alone if they don't own their houses. I certainly couldn't survive because the rent on an apartment would take almost all of my income.

Unless something drastic is done, there will be many homeless elders. I can only imagine the misery that this will create.

Unemployment hit here too. G knew it was coming, but the shock wasn't just ageism but that the application process had also changed totally. His company outsourced his whole department to Mexico, and he immediately began job hunting, online. Over the next 14 months sent out over 800 resumes each tailored to the job. He got only three interviews....all phone interviews.

He did get a job...via phone interview, and a second phone interview, and a conference call. Last Monday he passed his probation period all this without meeting a boss, or having a f2f conference with a fellow employee.

Yes, he likes his job, but one side effect of being over fifty without employment for so long is that he now tries for perfection in this new job. He works harder than anyone else they have, and works very long hours all so these folks he has never seen will keep him on the job.

It's a disaster. My now ex's 'downsizing' put the kibosh on our already fragile marriage and we both have since learned that they did some other really dirty nasty things. He's never worked in his field since because of their machinations as well as his age.

I swore that I wanted to name his company correspondent in our divorce but my lawyer said we couldn't.

It's an ugly world we live that we live in today and now they want to mess with our Social Security? I think that is evil in the Biblical sense of the word.

I'd write to my new Congressman about this but he's GOP and a Tea Party type so I'm not going to bother.
I still can't believe that with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country the citizens of Ohio elected anti-labor guys like him and John Boehner and John Kasich.

As Jack Cafferty says, "It's getting ugly out there folks."

Nobody likes a loser, and there is nothing that says "loser" like looking old. I think it is ageism and nothing else.
Unless an older prospective employee is absolutely the only person who can do the job, he or she is very unlikely to be hired.
So I think it's necessary to focus on that: you are the one who can do the job. That's all the employer cares about; your personal situation does not move him one way or another.

I believe that society is just waiting for all of older unemployed workers to, I hate to say it, die and go away. These will be replaced by a whole new generation of lower paid eager workers. High unemployment will, more or less, be with us until we pass. And, society, by in large, thinks it's ok. That's my half-baked theory.

Thank you for posting this Ronni. I still cannot find the part of the clip that you might find uplifting. Perhaps I am jaded in that I'm 57 and just laid off Oct.29th myself.

I loved my job. I took a demotion in 2009 to, in part, contribute to resolving the financial crunch my department was experiencing but I am torn too by having been manipulated as I was in the name of budget cuts. It was rather obvious to me that I was involved with an organization that really did not value me or my financial sacrifice. I regret that I hadn't noticed before I became a pawn but I do not regret the position I held for a year. At least I got to work at a job I really enjoyed for that amount of time! I feel foolish that I actually believed that they valued my work. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.

The folks in the interview are just like me only (perhaps because of my self esteem being somewhat singed) I don't want to have anything to do with such an operation. I want, truly, to be a part of something better and more in line with an affiliation that I can be proud of. I'm not feeling very proud of the choices that my previous employer is making these days. So my unemployment is a wake up call to my allegiances and expectations. It matters more to me now that I'm involved with work that is not demeaning and abusive.

I'm completely unsure of my plan at this point but it is clear to me that I will not allow that kind of disrespect to make up the foundation of my daily life! I'm talking big, I suppose, as I haven't lost my home yet and as that day approaches, I will no doubt be pressed into some tough spots with my highfalutin' ideas.

It is a day-by-day existence these days. I hope my health holds out until I can stabilize this situation.

I will be forwarding this post on through my blog & Facebook. Again, thank you for sharing this information.

PS to Kay Dennison: it seems to me all the MORE reason to harass your congressman with phone calls and letters if he is a tea party enthusiast!! At least you could say you gave your two cents and if you were lucky in your strike, a moment of doubt, if not clarity.

Thanks for posting this today Ronnie. I worry more about people in their mid to late 40s than anyone else. They have so far to go before they can collect a dime of SS. I think folks 62 and older need to stop worrying so much. Goodness, we have enough to concern us without projecting dismal news. Yesterday is a cancelled check tomorrow a promissory note, Live in the present moment and be grateful for what we have. Just my 2 cents.


What I found uplifting - maybe a bit too positive a word - was how all those people tried so hard to be reasonable in an unreasonable situation.

Having been there, having been unemployed for months, then more than a year, I couldn't have presented myself with the strength they showed while talking about being jobless for so long.

I am so sorry about your layoff. Please keep in touch with us and tell us how it's going.

At almost 74 I'm one of the lucky ones. I still have a part-time job at the nonprofit where I've worked for the past 35 years. However, my agency is largely publicly-funded and, due to a humongous state budget deficit, I'm very concerned about what may happen next year. With people in their 40s and 50s among the long-term unemployed, obviously I wouldn't stand a chance of finding another job if I get laid off. My job has enabled us to minimize drawing on what's left of our retirement funds. I really feel for the people who are caught up in this nation's economic train wreck through no fault of their own. They've done everything right--except stay under 30! At the very least, Congress MUST extend unemployment benefits.

I lost my job in September of 2009. Have been out of work all this time. Just got a consulting contract, so that makes me hopeful. I can live on what I have, so I'm not in trouble, but it's astonishing to send out resumes and get absolutely no response at all.

I've been looking for a new job since the beginning of this year. I've had to look for new contract numerous times in the last 10 years, since the contracts are all short term (1-3 years). This is the first time I am not getting interviews even though I have all the qualifications and skills they are asking for. Is it because of my age? I can't say. It is different though to other times. I'm now in the process of becoming self-employed as a trainer and project manager. More or less have to do this since the unemployment agency will continue funding for another 9 months if I do. This is quite a daunting process.

One last comment on subject, employers have mastered covering up age discrimination. We've got all these laws to prevent it and, yet, it's more rampant than ever. They KNOW how to do it, get away with it, and get rid of us or not hire us without being caught. Just like on wall street, laws are made to stop cheating, and they soon figure out ways around them and go back to cheating. Our goose is cooked.

The comments to this entry are closed.