Long-Term Unemployed Baby Boomers


For the Baby Boomers, the Great Recession and its aftermath has taken its toll on the sons and daughters of the Silent Generation...those who grew up during the Great Depression and World War Two --- those who were sometimes called the "The Lucky Few". But in the prime of their working careers, many of their children are struggling to survive. They weren't so lucky. Simply put, as Susan Sipprelle of the website Over Fifty and Out of Work says, "They were the wrong age at the wrong time."

According to a study by the Government Accountability Office released last year, workers 55 and older have experienced consistently longer periods of unemployment than younger workers, as employers seek cheaper labor and look to skirt potentially higher health care costs.

Whenever we hear media pundits, bloggers, radio hosts, lobbyists and politicians complain that too many people are using government programs (SNAP, disability, TANF, etc.) to survive on, and saying that there are "plenty" of jobs to be had, it can really make one's blood boil. These people always use a few anecdotal stories (that may or may not be true) to make their arguments for cutting taxes for the rich, rather than using non-partisan data and research to explain why so many people need government programs to live on. Especially ever since the job market has morphed over the past 30 years with the offshoring of good-paying manufacturing and tech jobs, while simultaneously, having such explosive growth in the low-paying service, fast-food and retail industries.

Instead, these media pundits, bloggers, radio hosts, lobbyists and politicians use misleading, false, and skewed (politically or ideologically motivated) reports and studies from "think tanks" that are pushing the interests of big business, and NOT the interests of every day American workers. The pro-business think tanks, pro-business lobbying groups and pro-business media outlets (e.g. Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Business Roundtable, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, etc.) outright lies to the voters, tricking them into voting against their own best interests. They like to use the word "freedom" in place of the word "greed". It's despicable that they use faux patriotism to hide their true anti-worker agenda. It's a shame that many who dodged the draft (politicians, CEOs, media pundits, etc.), are now in power and oppresses the true heroes who actually served their country.

The fact is that for the past 5 years it has NOT been easy to get a job --- any job --- especially one that actually pays a living wage, and is a regular full-time job, and is a permanent position, and also offers humane benefits (like healthcare). For the past 5 years most jobs have been either part-time, low-paying and/or temporary. Employers are doing more with less. According to two articles in the L.A. Times (Part One and Part Two) Americans are already hard-working people. It's just that employers keep pushing them for ever more "productivity" --- and in the process, are wearing workers down.

What don't these media pundits, bloggers, radio hosts, lobbyists and politicians understand? Most of us suspect that most do understand --- and know all too well --- but that they just don't care, and only want what's best for the billionaires on the Forbes 400 List --- and not what's in the best interests of average working Americans. According to the Social Security Administration, 50% of all U.S. wage earners who filed a W-4 with an employer and paid FICA taxes earned $26,965 a year or LESS.

Many people still don't believe (or can comprehend) that the Great Recession displaced over 8.7 million workers, or that the offshoring of jobs is still escalating and exacerbating the unemployment problem. Almost a third of all domestic U.S. jobs are still prone to offshoring while 30 million Americans (after 5 long years) still need a full-time job (Apple's iPhones will soon be re-classified as part of U.S. Gross "Domestic" Product, rather than as imports).

Many media pundits, bloggers, radio hosts, lobbyists and politicians are trying to convince the general public that 47 million Americans are gaming the system to use food stamps because they are lazy, not because they need SNAP to eat. It's been wealthier Americans who have been gaming the system with a rigged tax code, but most multi-millionaire news pundits on the major cable news channels will almost never admit this because they don't wanttheir taxes going up --- or their bosses' taxes going up (the billionaires on the Forbes 400 List that own the major media outlets.)

Because the government stops counting people in the unemployment rate after a given time, millions of unemployed Americans are no longer counted. But for the sake of argument, by using the government's reported U-3 numbers --- counting part-time workers who want and need full-time work, there are still 20 million Americans who need a full-time job, but there are only 3.8 million listed job openings. Can these media pundits, bloggers, radio hosts, lobbyists and politicians do simple math? Are they burying their heads in the sand like ostriches, thinking if they don't see the danger, none exists? Or are the politicians so beholden to their billionaire campaign donors that they are too afraid to utter the truth to their constituents --- putting their jobs before the interests of the American people?

A research paper by Ghayad and William Dickens (Federal Reserve Bank of Boston) showed that the long-term unemployed are struggling to find work, no matter how many job openings there are. In an interview for the Wall Street Journal Ghayad says, "Once you are long-term unemployed, nobody calls you back."

But many of the media pundits, bloggers, radio hosts, lobbyists and politicians still think it's the same now as it was back in the "old days", when all one had to do was pull up their boot straps. (Reality check: No, this is not the old days. The older long-term unemployed workers were raised during the old days and most of them always found jobs during the old days. These days are not the old days.)

In a speech to a local Chamber of Commerce (a business lobbying group), Rep. Dave Joyce (a Republican from Ohio) said, "The trouble is, it's because they [employers] either can't find people to come to work sober, daily, drug-free and want to learn the necessary skills going forward to be able to do those jobs." (This is a typical anecdotal story to disparage the less fortunate and most unlucky...like older long-term unemployed Americans, who may have already consistently worked and paid taxes for the past 35 years during "the old days".)

Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas (seen giving a speech on C-SPAN last night) said Obamacare was forcing businesses to offshore their manufacturing to China (although this has been happening since the 1970s); and a pundit on MSNBC said today that manufacturing workers who had their jobs offshored overseas failed to acquire new skills, like in the tech industry (even though those jobs were also offshored).

Howard Foster writes, "President Obama was once asked by the wife of an unemployed engineer why the U.S. allows H-1B visas for engineers and other high-tech workers when so many are unemployed. The president seemed remarkably ill-informed in responding. He said, without citing any statistics, that businesses tell him they cannot find enough engineers."

But this kind of anecdotal evidence is usually misleading. Obama should have known that there are many unemployed engineers. In fact, the U.S. Census had put the number at 1.8 million. And in a study by the Economic Policy Institute, they found that "the United States has more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations."

The editorial board of the New York Times writes, "There is a durable belief that much of today’s unemployment is rooted in a skills gap, in which good jobs go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants. This is mostly a corporate fiction, based in part on self-interest and a misreading of government data. When there are many more applicants than jobs, employers tend to impose over-exacting criteria, and then wait for the perfect match. They also offer tightfisted pay packages."

It seems that many media pundits, bloggers, radio hosts, lobbyists and politicians are trying to convince the general public that over the course of 19 months (during the Great Recession, from December 2007 to June 2009) 8.7 million workers suddenly lost their jobs skills. But many of them who are over 50 years old have PLENTY of job skills --- a LIFETIME of jobs skills. Americans don't lack job skills, they lack jobs.

How easy is it (really) to find a job? And especially for older workers, who have been passed over in record numbers? Older unemployed Americans have not been hired mainly because 1) they're older, and 2) they're unemployed. Otherwise, they're responsible, mature, experienced and diplomatic individuals, and many have skills and most are reasonably intelligent; but they have those two fatal flaws: 1) they were over 50 years old and 2) they were laid off.

A U.S. Government Accountability Office study identified employer reluctance to hire older workers as a key challenge that older workers face in finding reemployment. The GAO also found that the number of workers age 55 and over experiencing long-term unemployment has grown substantially since the recession began in 2007. Other findings:

  • Individuals age 55 and over have consistently experienced longer durations of unemployment than younger workers.

  • The median length of unemployment has more than tripled for older workers.

  • Only 31 percent of those older workers age 55-64 who were displaced between 2007 and 2009 had regained full-time employment.

  • Several experts interviewed said long-term unemployment diminishes the likelihood that older workers will ever be re-employed.

  • Long-term unemployed older workers who exhaust unemployment benefits before turning 62 are particularly at great risk.

  • Displaced older workers suffer greater wage losses than younger workers.

  • The effects of job loss are likely to be longer-lasting for older workers, including them being more likely to lose subsequent jobs and experience additional unemployment spells.

  • Losing their jobs has taken a toll on their sense of self-worth, reduced their standard of living, and put them at risk of long-term financial hardship.

  • Long-term unemployed older workers struggled to pay health insurance premiums and some said they had found it difficult to secure private insurance because of high costs or preexisting conditions. Many had forgone seeking medical care altogether, and stopped taking prescribed medications because they could not afford them.

A study by the Urban Institute also reported that older adults took longer to find work when they lost their jobs; and that wage losses were especially steep for unemployed workers in their fifties who managed to become re-employed. As of 2011:

  • Adults in their fifties spent more time unemployed than their younger counterparts.

  • Half of workers age 50 to 61 who became unemployed spent at least six months out of work (It's much higher now.)

  • It took more than nine months of job search for half of unemployed adults age 50 to 61 to find work (It's much higher now.)

  • Unemployed adults in their fifties were about a fifth less likely than their counterparts age 25 to 34 to become reemployed. (It's much higher now.) - "Conclusions" on page 5

A newer study from the Urban Institute shows that even if the economy returns to full employment, many workers are still likely to face long-term unemployment. Other findings:

  • Long-term unemployed workers are less educated than employed workers, but actually somewhat more educated than newly unemployed and discouraged workers.

  • Ages 56 to 65 - 14.8 percent are long-term unemployed workers, 15.7 percent are employed workers, and 17.8 percent are discouraged workers.

  • 40.5 percent of long-term unemployed job seekers are age 16 to 25. This suggests that the youngest job seekers are likely to experience shorter spells of unemployment.

  • The characteristics of the long-term unemployed changed from the periods before (2007), during (2009), and after (2012) the Great Recession. The long-term unemployed in 2012 were somewhat more educated than before the Great Recession.

  • Workers with less than a high school degree now make up 18.1 percent of job seekers who have been out of work more than six months, rather than 23.5 percent as was the case in 2007.

  • Those with some college but no degree are making up an increasing share of the long-term unemployed.

According to another report by economists Dean Baker and Kevin Hassett that was cited by the New York Times (which was also referred to in a congressional hearing for older workers) a worker between the ages 50 and 61, and who had been unemployed for 17 months or longer, only had about a 9 percent chance of ever finding a new job. And the longer they were unemployed, the lower their chances for ever finding work again. Add in any sub-standard credit reports because they were unemployed, medical records indicating below average health, any back taxes owed, a mortgage foreclosure because of job loss, or a rejected disability claim by Social Security, and the odds are much worse for an older person ever finding a job again --- essentially, they are SOL.

Since the Great Recession began, many older workers have been out of work for five years or longer, caught between a rock and a hard place, because no one will hire them and they are not yet old enough to qualify for regular Social Security.

All in all, the Baby Boomers were the greatest victims of the recession and its grim aftermath. These Americans in their 50s and early 60s --- those near retirement age who do not yet have access to Medicare and Social Security --- have lost the most earnings power of any age group.

And a study by economists at Wellesley College found that people who lost their jobs in the few years before becoming eligible for Social Security, also lost up to three years from their life expectancy, largely because they no longer had access to affordable health care.

Many older workers have run through their retirement savings: One survey of post 50s found 25 percent had used up all of their savings between 2007 and 2010. And those who are forced to take Social Security at age 62 are stuck at a lower benefit for life. According to the GAO report, someone who exited the workforce at that age would receive a median monthly benefit of $909 -– compared to $1,212 for people who wait to take Social Security until age 66.

For someone who's 55 years old today, and has already been unemployed for 5 years, they would still have to wait another 7 years before they can become eligible to take an early Social Security retirement at the age 62 (with the reduced income). But they will still be without affordable health care coverage until they can qualify for Medicare at age 65 --- unless of course, with the new qualification rules, they might finally be eligible for Medicaid in 2014. (And we certainly know who opposes this.)

Research also suggests that long-term unemployed Baby Boomers may die sooner too, because their health, their income security and their mental well-being were battered by the Great Recession at a crucial time in their lives. The study cited also found that for people in that age group, the long-term unemployed were also more prone to suicide.

The major TV media outlets consistently reports on an improving employment situation, based on the government reported U-3 unemployment rate, but this is very misleading. The U-6 rate would be a more accurate measure (even though even that statistic doesn't include millions more who have supposedly "dropped out" of the labor force. Some have put the number of "discouraged workers" between 8 and 10 million since December 2007 (when the Great Recession began), and most likely the majority of them are 99ers. (And one can reasonably guess, most ofthem were older workers.)

And rarely is the plight of older workers ever mentioned, except in a few online stories. Instead, we hear major media pundits interviewing many bloggers, radio hosts, lobbyists, politicians and other corporate shills who claim the current administration is turning the country into a nation of dependents, rather than pointing out the offshoring of good jobs, the mass creation of poor jobs, and the huge difficulty of finding any job at all. Their emphases has primarily been on government programs to sustain those who are no longer being offered any opportunity at all to earn a livelihood.

The United States has the worst income inequality of any industrialized nation. One of the very few talking heads in the major media who decries this record-high income inequality is Ed Schultz (who was once a conservative) on MSNBC. It's odd, in that that President Obama would mention the middle-class so often, the offshoring of jobs, and a more fair tax system, after he had also made the CEO of General Electric (owner of MSNBC) his Jobs Czar when GE's CEO not only offshored many good domestic jobs, but he had also successfully "avoided" paying any corporate taxes. (Now Obama is blaming homeowners instead of the banks for the housing crisis. That my friend, is also a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.)

For those over 50 and unemployed, the statistics are grim. Once out of a job, older workers have a much harder time finding work. The reality is that the problem of the older unemployed was acute during the Great Recession, and is now chronic.

Andrew Sum, director of Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies, says, "The longer you’re unemployed, the more likely you are to leave the labor force, and the more likely it’s an early retirement for you.”

According to the Labor Department, the majority of the long-term unemployed are older white men, including many college-educated workers who rebounded from job losses earlier in their careers, only to see employment prospects dim in what should be their prime earning years. Economists say the longer that they are unemployed, the harder it becomes for them to find work.

“It’s the problem I worry about the most,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist for IHS Global Insight, a Lexington forecasting firm. “We’re condemning these people, creating this permanent underclass. Over 50, it’s just impossible to get a job.”

Those 55 and older who lose jobs have the most difficulty finding new ones. This segment of the labor force has consistently had the highest long-term unemployment rates [and experts say] is a looming public policy crisis as this group becomes dependent on various forms of public assistance --- because of either permanent joblessness or prolonged unemployment. Only about 15 percent had been able to find a full-time job.

AARP's Public Policy Institute surveyed unemployed baby boomers in 2010 and 2011. While 71% blamed their unemployment on the bad economy, almost half also said they believed age discrimination was also at play.

A few statements made at a Congressional hearing last year for older workers who were long-term unemployed:

  • Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) "While Americans were hit hard by this recession, the ramifications for older workers are particularly severe. Once older workers lost their jobs, they struggled far more than other groups to find work again."

  • Charles A. Jeszeck at the U.S. Government Accountability Office: "An October 2011 AARP survey of workers age 50 and over found that nearly a quarter said that they had used all of their savings during the past three years. Further, long-term unemployed workers nearing age 62 may opt to claim benefits earlier than they would have if they had still been working. Claiming benefits early, particularly for life-long low earners, can increase the risk of poverty at older ages."

  • Joseph Carbone, President and CEO of The WorkPlace: "It's compounded for older workers. They're dealing with the stigma of being older. They're dealing with the prejudices that come with it, with the discrimination that comes with it [and the] perception that lots of folks have that you're looking for something for nothing --- or your skills are too dull to be of help to anybody. It's a challenge if you're under 50. It's a category 5 hurricane if you're over 50." (In an interview for PBS Carbone also said "They're carrying a double whammy, not just the long-term unemployment, but they're 50 and older.)

  • Christine Owens - Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project: "When they [older workers] become unemployed they are more likely to remain so and to remain so for longer periods of time. Moreover, older unemployed workers are three times as likely as younger unemployed workers to become unemployed because they have lost their jobs." She also mentions the Protecting Older Americans Against Discrimination Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. (All the relevant testimony from the hearing was reposted here.)

The longer any worker is unemployed, the longer one tends to stay unemployed. Businesses hesitate to hire people who have not been working. Those workers tend to get "discouraged". The result is what wonks call hysteresis, where the scars from joblessness diminish the chance of future employment and reduce future earnings.

In an exposé by The Atlantic, they found that employers intentionally screen out the long-term unemployed, even if their résumé has the same work experience as someone unemployed for less than six months.

In one ABC report about older unemployed workers (video) it shows that the economy might be slowly recovering, but not for the long-term unemployed, especially not for Baby Boomers over 50 years old. They have been in a continuing struggle to find work in the wake of the Great Recession after 5 years of trying to find work --- and after repeated rejections.

Researchers found that the long-term unemployed will suffer deep mental and emotional scars from the experience. A Gallup study in the Economic Journal found that those who were out of work for at least a year took longer to recover emotionally than those who had lost a spouse. The results showed quantifiable declines in their health, their self-esteem and their overall emotional well-being. One Gallop Poll showed unemployed adults and those not working as much as they would like are about twice as likely as Americans who are employed full time to be depressed.

Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Jerseysays:

"There is really no demographic age group that has as much difficulty getting back in the job market if they lose a job. There is definitely bias against older workers, even if you have skills. They are depressed. They can't deal with rejection anymore. Many of them are requiring food stamps and Social Security Disability Insurance. There has been a high early-enrollment in Social Security, which is a lifetime punishment for people who are forced to do this, because many are taking roughly one-third less at 62."

The New York Times: Suicides Spike 30% for Baby Boomers:

  • Suicide rates among middle-age Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern for a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry.

  • The most pronounced increases were seen among men in their 50s, a group in which suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent.

  • It is the baby boomer group where we see the highest rates of suicide.

Most reasonable and informed people can assume that the vast majority of those deceased Baby Boomers would much rather have had a full-time job that paid a living wage (with healthcare). But for some reason, many of those media pundits, bloggers, radio hosts, lobbyists and politicians (that cater to the ultra-wealthy) would much rather have the general public believe otherwise --- that it was the Boomer's laziness or their lack of job skills, rather than their economic desperation, which had led to their early demise.


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