Reporter Floyd Norris, writing in The New York Times on Saturday, had this to say about retiring from the workforce:
”THE retirement dream seems further away for a lot of baby boomers, and they appear to be responding to that by holding on to their jobs if they can. But that may have worsened the employment prospects for younger workers.
“Labor Department figures indicate that the percentage of workers over the traditional retirement age of 65 is at a record high.”
Two things to know about Norris's opening statement: The “traditional retirement age,” usually defined as the age at which workers are eligible for full Social Security benefits, has not been 65 for a decade. As mandated by Congress in 1983, it is currently at 66 and is gradually increasing until it reaches 67 in 2022.
Second, it is a growing and irritating media meme that working old people are at fault for high unemployment among young people. This is not true. As a certain Cajun campaign consultant said 20 years ago, “It's the economy, stupid,” and it is devastating for both young and old in differing ways.
Retired people and those nearing retirement were hit with a triple whammy during and after the 2008 crash. They lost a large percentage of their 401(k) and other retirement savings; many thousands were forced into early retirement during the millions of layoffs following the crash; homes they had intended to sell to take out the accumulated equity for retirement are underwater or have lost a third or more of their value.
Actually, there is a fourth whammy too. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that age discrimination complaints had, in 2011, increased since 2007, by more than 21 percent.
And a fifth whammy: to survive, many laid-off old workers are forced to take early Social Security at age 62 decreasing their benefit for the rest of their lives by up to 30 percent, according to the Social Security Administration.
The gigantic difficulty for elders, compared to younger workers, is most do not have the time to recoup the losses to their 401(k)s; their homes will not reach their pre-recession value in their lifetimes (mine has dropped more than 20 percent since I bought it two years ago); and for those forced into early retirement, there is little chance of being rehired as we are reminded ad nauseum that employers will not take on people (of any age) who have been out of work for more than about six months.
Is it any wonder then that, as Norris reports, “the percentage of workers over the traditional retirement age of 65 is at a record high”? What choice do elders have? Norris also tells us:
"For the first time since the government began keeping track of the numbers in 1981 — and probably the first time ever — one in nine American men over the age of 75 was working in April. About one in 20 women over that age have jobs.
"In general, for workers it was better to be older in the current cycle. The employment-to-population ratios are higher now than before the recession began for both men and women in all age groups above 65."
What Norris does not tell us, however, is what kind of jobs they have. Walmart greeters? Whatever they work at, salaries are low across the board. In Virginia, a Presbyterian minister was laid off by her church in the downturn of 2007. She has struggled since then with temporary jobs and signed up for Social Security in 2010.
"For spending money,” reports Reuters via Huffington Post, “she plans to start teaching a water aerobics class to earn $40 a week. 'I'm not going to get wealthy on that,' she said. 'It's not really the ministry I expected to have.'"
Last Tuesday Senator Herb Kohl, who is chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, held a hearing focusing on long-term unemployment of older workers. At the hearing, Kohl made public a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) which, said Kohl, notes that
”...the number of long-term unemployed workers aged 55 and older has more than doubled since the recession began in late 2007. About 55 percent of unemployed older workers, or 1.1 million, have been unemployed for more than six months, up from 23 percent, or less than 200,000, in 2007.”
And less likely to find work with each passing day. Listen to these voices of the long-term, older unemployed as interviewed by the GAO last year:
It must be devastating to be a young worker with a freshly-minted college degree today, filled with energy and eager to take a first shot at changing the world. Surely you remember what that was like. Jobs were plentiful in my day and I don't envy today's graduates.
There is that gigantic student loan debt of tens of thousands of dollars even before they find their first job. Most jobs pay no more than the did 20 years ago while the price of rent, food, gas and clothing climb every month - and don't forget those loan payments right out of the first paycheck and thereafter for a decade or more. Few of us had anything like that.
But one thing young workers have that elders do not – 40 or more years to build a retirement nest egg. That doesn't make their lives any easier than elders in this economy, but they do have time on their side.
All people of the 99 percent are between a rock and a hard place these days so let us not blame elders for young folks' employment problems. Put the blame where it belongs – with the billionaire bank executives who brought us all to this calamity.
Tomorrow we'll discuss a lighter side of retirement.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Diane Linch: The Girl and Her Dad