The day after the marathon bombings, I flew to Boston. I had been invited to attend a class on the impact of layoffs at Harvard Business School. The lecture topic: the full range of costs associated with layoffs and the unexpectedly limited returns that they generate for companies. The class is also deigned and intended to sensitize students, future global business leaders, to the great hardships people face after being laid off.
Sam Newman, filmmaker, and I chronicled the pain and suffering that unemployment causes in our multimedia project Over 50 and Out of Work and award-winning documentary Set for Life, so I was particularly interested in observing the students’ comments and reactions to the subject of layoffs at the elite business school. To read more, click here.
We were nominated for the following awards by the Madrid festival:
Best Director of a Feature Documentary: Susan Sipprelle
Best Editor of a Feature Documentary: Susan Sipprelle & Sam Newman
However, Joe Price, one of the three main characters in Set for Life, who returned to work in 2011 after a painful two-year bout of unemployment, lost his job again recently when his new employer declared bankruptcy. You can read more about his heartbreaking job loss in this Huffington Post article: The Fate of a Hardworking American Man.
As we also mentioned in our last newsletter, we are expanding our scope of work. You can keep track of all our projects on our Tree of Life Productions website and Facebook page. Please take a moment and like our new Tree of Life Productions page!
Sam and I rode Amtrak from New York to Washington, D.C. and back last month because we had two screenings of Set for Life in the capitol city. The crowded train rumbled along this portion of the nation’s heavily populated Northeast Corridor at a middling pace, not a rapid, smooth roll. The WiFi reception onboard this time was respectable, thank goodness. It is never lightning fast, but sometimes it is nonexistent.
Along the route, we passed hundreds of abandoned buildings – former homes and businesses – crumbling, decaying, surrounded by heaps of trash and filth. The passengers concentrated on their laptops or conversations and ignored the depressing view that could be seen through the train’s windows. They seemed to have acclimated themselves to the gloomy vista of struggling cities within the context of a weak national economy. To read more, click here.
Next week, there will be two screenings of Set for Life in Washington, DC:
Invitation to see Set for Life – free and open to the public
Wednesday, February 20
4:00 to 6:00 p.m.
Economic Policy Institute
Wellstone Conference Room
1333 H Street, Suite 300
Set for Life follows three Baby Boomers who attempt to recover from the devastating impact of losing their jobs during the Great Recession. The film shows their struggle to hang onto their homes, health insurance, and hope. Over time, the three boomers learn to cope with unemployment’s drastic effects on their lives, including the loss of economic security and ultimately their loss of confidence in the American Dream.
As the U.S. economy continues to struggle, the themes and issues explored in Set for Life remain timely and topical not only for boomers, but for all Americans.
This film grew out of Over 50 and Out of Work, a two-year online multimedia project. Susan Sipprelle and Sam Newman will be on hand to discuss Set for Life in a post-screening Q&A.
This event is free, but we would appreciate your registering HERE.
* * * * *
On Thursday, February 21, the AARP Foundation is hosting a private Set for Life screening at its headquarters.
Back in 2010, few economists, if any, anticipated that the negative impact of the Great Recession would last well into 2013. Yet more than three years after the downturn officially ended in December 2009, only about half of the nine million jobs that were lost have been restored.
Recent news stories also revealed that the Federal Reserve underestimated the severity of the subprime mortgage lending crisis in 2007 and predicted the economy would not be seriously affected. However, since the end of 2006, U.S. households have lost $7 trillion in home equity. Unemployed homeowners discovered to their dismay that their fallback – selling their homes to relocate for new or better job opportunities — disappeared as the value of their houses declined, often leaving their homes underwater or worth less than the mortgages owed on them.
When the experts do not get the big picture right on the economy, how can individual workers figure out what to do in today’s job market? Click here to read the rest of my February Stay Thirsty column.
* Set for Life is also an official selection of the NorCalFilmFest. Please give Set for Life a thumbs-up vote on the NorCalFilmFest site. Thank you!
* Set for Life will be shown on Comcast channel 195 and broadcast channel 14 KAZV TV serving California’s Central Valley from south Stockton to north Merced on Feb. 2, 10 and 24. The schedule is available here. If you live in that area of the country, please take this opportunity to watch Set for Life on TV.
* We are also excited to announce that Set for Life is an official selection of the Queens World Film Festival that runs from March 5 to 10. We will post the screening times on our social media when they are made available.
* Next month, the Empire State College School for Graduate Studies spring residency will also hold private screening of Set for Life followed by panel discussion at an event for faculty and students jointly hosted by the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, the Master of Arts in Social Policy and the Master of Arts in Labor and Policy Studies.
As the end of 2012 approaches, we are relieved that the majority of our 100 interviewees from our multimedia project Over 50 and Out of Work have been able to find jobs over the past year. Some of our happiest moments in 2012 occurred when we received calls and emails from our interviewees in Michigan, Oregon and California, letting us know that they had been able to return to work.
However, almost all of our successful job seekers have had to accept a substantial cut in pay and many do not receive healthcare benefits in their new positions. Although the crisis of unemployment has ended for many people, the aftereffects linger: They are still trying to rebuild savings, waiting for the value of their homes to rebound and worrying about their futures.
Nationally, the unemployment rate among older workers remains at record levels, and the average number of weeks that older workers are unemployed is still longer than one year. In sum, recovery from the Great Recession for workers over the age of 50 continues, but it is uncertain and slow.
In 2012, we also launched our documentary Set for Life. The film follows three Baby Boomers who struggle to recover from the devastating impact of losing their jobs during the Great Recession.
At its Massachusetts Independent Film Festival premier in September, Set for Life won “Best Feature Documentary.” It has also been shown at Louisville’s International Festival of Film, the Hartford Flick-Fest and the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.
Reviews and feedback on our film:
• Set for Life puts a human face on one of the most vexing problems facing American society: in a competitive global economy, how can we secure for older workers the opportunity and esteem that come with work? The film is a valuable resource for anyone who cares about the future of the American Dream.
- Professor Jan W. Rivkin, Harvard Business School
• What a compelling documentary and such a frank exploration of what people are dealing with in this economy. Thank you for producing this film and for sharing it with the public. Every legislator in the United States should see this film so that they see firsthand what the citizens of this great nation are facing.
- Audience member
• Set for Life vividly displays the plight of older workers in the aftermath of the financial crisis. We see and hear a lot about what they’ve lost – steady employment, health and health insurance, even their homes. But what comes across most powerfully is the grace with which many of the individuals who were interviewed are handling the reversal of their longstanding hopes and expectations. Set for Life is an important window into the America we are fast becoming, and it is well worth watching.
- Professor Sandra Sucher, Harvard Business School
• Maybe Set for Life resonates so strongly with me because it is largely about my generation – that group of late Boomers caught in this horrible recession during what should be their peak earning years. Their stories of hardship, desperation, and heartbreak are playing across the nation, and shame on us, if we do not take them seriously and demand that America’s employers and policy makers do the same.
- Professor David Yamada, Suffolk Law University
• I thought the film was well done, moving and eye opening. And although I am a student at Rutgers, the stories resonated with me as I have a few relatives that have been laid off and experienced similar hardships like those profiled in the film. Great documentary.
- Audience member
Set for Life will be screened on Saturday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at the upcoming New Jersey Film Festival and at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. (date and time to be announced). We will continue to post updates about future screenings on our website and social media. Let us know if you would like to help us arrange a screening in your state or community.
The Great Recession and the war in Afghanistan shatter one family’s American Dream.
In February 2011, George Ross greeted Sam Newman, filmmaker, and me at his front door and helped us lug our heavy video equipment into the living room of his home in Livermore, Calif., a suburban city about one hour east of San Francisco. George, 58, had learned of our multimedia project Over 50 and Out of Work at a Bay area job support group and offered to participate. During the Great Recession, George lost his job as an information technology project manager for a large construction company, and he was still unemployed.
While Sam set up the camera and lights, George talked about his family and showed me photos of his wife Linda and their four sons. He pointed out their son Jason, a Marine explosive ordnance disposal technician who was stationed in Afghanistan at the time. George told me proudly that Jason had been selected to help provide security at President Obama’s 2008 inauguration due to his special expertise.
When George and I sat down for his video interview, he described his ongoing frustrating job search and his escalating financial problems. George and Linda had wanted to spare their sons the burden of student loan debt, so they had decided to take out a second mortgage on their home in the early 2000s when its value skyrocketed. Without George’s salary, Linda’s income from the daycare business that she operated out of their home was barely keeping their bills paid. George said they were using up their savings at a ferocious rate, and the couple had been forced to dip into their retirement funds.
Nevertheless, George was upbeat. Gregarious and outgoing, he was using his network of contacts to stay connected to his industry and on top of potential job openings. He was keeping his project manager certifications current as well as continually upgrading his professional skills. He was confident that he would be able to return to work.
In mid-March, I emailed George to let him know that his video interview was live on our website. A few days later George responded graciously. He thanked me for letting him know, but said he had not yet had a chance to take a look at it because his family circumstances had changed.
On March 7, 2011, Jason stepped on an improvised explosive device or IED while on patrol in Afghanistan. Both of his legs and part of his pelvis had to be amputated. George and Linda flew from California to be with Jason at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., now renamed the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. George said the doctors at the center told him that Jason’s injuries were among the most serious they had ever seen.
Gradually and miraculously, Jason’s medical condition stabilized. Jason and his wife, who have two young daughters, separated. George became his son’s primary non-medical caregiver both within the family and on behalf of the federal government, which paid him $71 a day for the task. Linda was forced to return to Livermore to run her home-based daycare because she and George needed the income from her small business to pay their bills, including their mortgage payments.
Up to this point in time, George and Linda’s quiet, normal life had been centered on their family, jobs and community. But the Great Recession and U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan shattered the American Dream they had built together.
George is one of the three main characters in our documentary Set for Life that grew out of Over 50 and Out of Work, so we have stayed in contact with him and Linda. Although they have never expressed any bitterness or regret over the events that have overwhelmed their life and devastated their expectations, they are deeply worried about Jason’s future, as well as their own.
In late 2011, Jason was transferred to the Naval Medical Center San Diego at Balboa Park. The Rosses were eager to have Jason back in California where Linda and his three brothers could visit more easily while George continued to provide his daily care. Jason’s wife and his two children also relocated to San Diego, so Jason, George and Linda were able to stay involved with the two little girls.
Jason’s condition continued to improve throughout most of 2012. Jason and George moved into a handicapped-accessible condominium in San Diego, and Jason was able to gain some independence in an adapted wheelchair that he could operate independently and a measure of freedom in a specially equipped van that George drove. The Wounded Warrior EOD Foundation, the Semper Fi Fund, Luke’s Wings, the Livermore Military Families Support Group, other organizations, friends and neighbors provided much-needed and greatly appreciated funds, supplies, transportation and necessities.
The assistance, targeted mostly at Jason and his immediate family, however, did little to ease the growing financial pressures that George and Linda faced. They struggled to make their monthly mortgage payments. Linda lived without heat, except during the hours when her daycare children were in the house. She discontinued her cable service. George sold his beloved Harley Davidson.
They tried to renegotiate their mortgage unsuccessfully. Their house was officially underwater, like many U.S. homes as a result of the decline in home values caused by the Great Recession. Off the record, George was told that their lender, Ocwen, would not consider lowering the interest rate or principal balance because the Rosses had not missed any of their monthly payments.
As the year wore on, Jason’s pain began to escalate. The bones in his pelvis were re-growing in a coral-like formation that pressed against the soft tissue and skin in his lower torso. Jason opted to return to Walter Reed for more surgery, and he and his wife decided to try to rebuild their marriage. She stepped in to become Jason’s non-medical caregiver. Back at Bethesda, Jason had 10 pounds of bone removed and is currently undergoing skin grafts. He hopes to begin physical therapy and use of a wheelchair again in the near future.
This fall, George, now 60, returned to Linda in Livermore and began his job search once again for a position as an information project manager. The couple’s savings are completely gone, given what they have coped with over the last 18 months, and they have fallen behind on their monthly mortgage payments to their great embarrassment. Yet they were told by their lender that they were no longer eligible for refinancing because George had no income at all – an infuriating Catch-22 that other unemployed workers have also faced in the perverse U.S. home mortgage refinance market.
George has now found employment as a driver for a car service company to bring in some money while he continues to job hunt for a full-time position. He and Linda remain loving, uncomplaining, patriotic and courageous. They are remarkable Americans who have suffered greatly at the mercy of forces beyond their control.
Every day, it seems, I read the announcements that large corporations make about their support for veterans and military families. As we enter this holiday season, there most be an American employer who can turn those good intentions into action and give George what he needs and deserves – a job.
Please register for next Tuesday’s film discussion and screening of Set for Life:
Set for Life: Film Screening and Discussion
Tuesday, November, 27, 2012
3:30 to 6:00 p.m.
Edward J. Blaustein School of Planning and Public Policy
33 Livingston Avenue
Special Events Forum, 1st floor
New Brunswick, NJ
Recent Set for Life reviews:
Set for Life puts a human face on one of the most vexing problems facing American society: in a competitive global economy, how can we secure for older workers the opportunity and esteem that come with work? The film is a valuable resource for anyone who cares about the future of the American Dream.
- Professor Jan W. Rivkin, Bruce V. Rauner Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School
Set for Life vividly displays the plight of older workers in the aftermath of the financial crisis. We see and hear a lot about what they’ve lost – steady employment, health and health insurance, even their homes. But what comes across most powerfully is the grace with which many of the individuals who were interviewed are handling the reversal of their longstanding hopes and expectations. Set for Life is an important window into the America we are fast becoming, and it is well worth watching.
- Sandra Sucher, Professor of Management Practice, Harvard Business School
Maybe Set for Life resonates so strongly with me because it is largely about my generation – that group of late Boomers caught in this horrible recession during what should be their peak earning years. Their stories of hardship, desperation, and heartbreak are playing across the nation, and shame on us, if we do not take them seriously and demand that America’s employers and policy makers do the same.
- David Yamada, Professor of Law and Director of the New Workplace Institute, Suffolk Law University
The Heldrich Center for Workforce Development is proud to invite you to a special screening of the film Set for Life, a compelling documentary exploring the lives, struggles, and concerns of Baby Boomers who lost their jobs during the Great Recession. The film was recently recognized as the best feature documentary in the 2012 Massachusetts Independent Film Festival.
The event will be held on Tuesday, November 27 in the Special Events Forum at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at 33 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick, NJ. It begins at 3:30 p.m. with a reception, followed by the screening of the hour-long film at 4:00 p.m. A Q&A with the film’s producers Susan Sipprelle and Sam Newman will follow. The event will conclude with a panel discussion on the status of aging workers in today’s labor market. The panel will include Dr. Carl Van Horn, Director/Professor of the Heldrich Center; Kathy Krepcio, Executive Director of the Heldrich Center; and Maria Heidkamp, a Senior Project Manager at the Heldrich Center.
For the past two and one-half years, Sam Newman, filmmaker, and I have been interviewing men and women over the age of 50 who lost their jobs in the Great Recession. Our work culminated in the documentary Set for Life, which follows three Baby Boomers as they seek reemployment after losing their jobs in the economic downturn.
Now that the economy seems to be recovering, albeit slowly and unevenly, it is easy to forget or minimize the pain that unemployment wreaked on older workers and their families. Since 2007, older workers have tried to survive in an economy that shed jobs, decimated savings and erased the equity they had accumulated in their homes over time. Also, of course, they lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs. In sum, they faced the economic equivalent of a perfect storm that they are still trying to weather.
“For people in their 50s, who lose their jobs, the consequences are probably going to last for the rest of their lives,” said Richard W. Johnson, director of the retirement policy program at the nonpartisan Urban Institute.
The harmful effects of the Great Recession continue to drag on, especially for Americans who are nearing the traditional retirement age of 65. No other age group has seen its income drop as sharply post-recession. Even younger workers, who have also suffered greatly in the recession’s aftermath, have not suffered income declines as large as older workers. Between June 2009, when the recession officially ended, and 2012, the median annual income of all householders age 55 to 64 decreased from $61,716 to $55,748, a decline of close to 10 percent. In comparison, the median yearly income of younger householders, ages 25 to 34, declined from $54,520 to $49,659 or just under 9 percent.
Richard Eisenberg, senior web editor of Next Avenue, the PBS system website targeted at Americans age 50+, reviews Set for Life in nextavenue.org and Forbes:
Set for Life: A Must-See Film on Being Over 50 and Out of Work
I was heartened to read in The Wall Street Journal this week that there are 3.5 million more Americans 55 and older working than in September 2009. But before you break out the bubbly, remember this: There are an additional 3 million people over 50 and unemployed — many for a year or longer.
Susan Sipprelle, the writer and producer of Set for Life, a new, compelling documentary about three unemployed boomers, thinks the 3 million figure is seriously understated. More important, she says, it doesn’t reflect “the huge ramifications that unemployment of older Americans has had on their families and on the country.” Click here to read more.
Sue Sipprelle, Sam Newman and Joe Price will be on HLN’s “Making It in America” tomorrow at 4 p.m. to talk about Set for LIfe with the show’s host, Vinnie Politan. Joe Price is one of the documentary’s three main characters and a former steelworker from Weirton, W.V.
Set for Life follows three Baby Boomers who struggle to recover from the devastating impact of losing their jobs in the Great Recession. They grew up in an era of optimism and prosperity, but now find themselves trying to hang onto their homes, health insurance and hope. Over time, the three boomers find their way to cope with the drastic effects of unemployment on their lives, but their futures are no longer secure, and they have lost their confidence in the American Dream.
The first screening of Set for Life at the 2012 Massachusetts Independent Film Festival in Somerville, Mass. was fully sold out! The documentary follows three unemployed Baby Boomers who lost their jobs during the Great Recession as they struggle to get back to work.
Among the audience members were Harvard undergraduates, educators and laid-off older workers, including Joel Nitzberg, a Somerville resident. Joel appears in Set for Life, and he participated in the online multimedia project, Over 50 and Out of Work. Joel lost his full-time position in 2010 when his employer, a local community college, experienced budget cutbacks and closed the lifelong learning department he headed.
While job-hunting, Joel wrote grant applications for towns and organizations, consulted part-time and volunteered in his community. In September 2011, Joe’s intensive job search paid off, and he went to work full-time for a non-profit organization serving Latinos. However, at the premiere, he said that state fiscal constraints threaten his current job, and he is facing the prospect of being laid off again.
Joel’s employment roller coaster ride reflects the current job market reality that workers face in today’s economy.
To read the rest of this column in StayThirsty.com, click here.
Audience reaction from the Oct. 6 screening at Louisville’s International Festival of Film:
“We all know this [unemployment] exists and people who are in this predicament, but this film shows how widespread it is.”
“I am experiencing this [unemployment] in my life. It’s comforting and discouraging to know so many others are as well. Your film is well done. Provoking and compelling.”
Set for Life will be screened at 7 p.m. on Saturday, October 6 at Louisville’s International Festival of Film. All festival events are free! Sam and I are traveling to Louisville on Saturday morning. Please come watch Set for Life with us at the Galt House that evening!
Set for Life is an official selection of the Hartford Flick-Fest, December 6 to 9, Hartford, Conn. The festival schedule has not yet been made available, so stay tuned.
Please join us for the first public screening of Set for Life by the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival!
9:55 p.m., Tuesday, September 25
Somerville Theatre, Somerville, Mass.
Set for Life is also an official selection of Louisville’s International Film Festival, Oct. 4 to 7, in Louisville, Ky.!
More about our documentary in my September StayThirsty column:
I thought I was set for life is the most common phrase I heard interviewing older Americans who lost their jobs as a result of the Great Recession. Over their careers, they had received promotions, praise and bonuses from companies such as AT&T, Panasonic, Pfizer or Weirton Steel. Then, one day, sometime after the economic downturn began in 2007, they were let go or downsized or told they were no longer needed and ushered out the door of the company where they had worked for more than 20 years. They were shocked.
They had children who depended on them, elderly parents who needed their support, bills and mortgages to pay. Compounding the impact of sudden unemployment, they found that their homes were underwater and their hard-earned savings were plummeting in value as housing and the financial markets tumbled downward. One more blow — they also lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs. They were stunned.
They are Baby Boomers and they are my peers, born during the era of general economic prosperity and optimism in the years between 1946 and 1964. They were not prepared to find their American Dream unraveling as they approached the end of their working lives.
Last night, we learned that Set for Life, our documentary, is an official selection of the 2012 Massachusetts Independent Film Festival! The festival will be held on September 25th and 26th at the Somerville Theater in Somerville, Mass. and on September 28th at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass. More info to follow!
We are excited to announce that we have completed the fine cut of Set for Life, our documentary about three Baby Boomers who struggle to recover from the devastating impact of losing their jobs in the Great Recession. Now older than 50, they strive to hang onto their homes, health insurance and hope. Experts, animated infographics and brief clips from additional unemployed boomers across the United States set the three main characters’ stories in a broader national context. They each find a way to cope with the drastic effects of unemployment on their lives, but their futures are no longer secure, and they have lost their confidence in the American Dream.
Over the next few weeks, we will be adding the finishing touches to the fine cut, so stay tuned for more updates. Click here to watch a two-minute trailer for the film.
We are thrilled and honored that Set for Life has been chosen as one of the finalists in the Roy Dean Summer Film Grant! More info about will be posted on the From the Heart Productions site in August.
Last month, Over 50 and Out of Work completed the interviewing portion of our multimedia project, and we are now editing our feature-length documentary. The film will focus on three of our original 100 interviewees, who are all over 50 years of age and lost their jobs as a result of the Great Recession.
The film’s three main characters struggle with the most common difficulties that our 100 interviewees have experienced – the shock of sudden, unexpected joblessness; worries about paying bills, especially mortgage payments; loss of health insurance; a prolonged and frustrating job search; depleted or exhausted savings, as well as diminished optimism about the future. They each resolve or adapt to the devastating impact of extended unemployment on their lives differently, but the issues of health insurance coverage and homeownership dominate their concerns and fears, as they do for many Americans who are 50-plus and jobless.
Carl Van Horn, director of the workforce center, is one of our Over 50 and Out of Work expert interviewees.
The center began a nationwide survey of the unemployed in August 2009 of 1200 respondents and has repeated the survey three times, most recently, in September 2011.
Although the center questioned many more individuals than Over 50 and Out of Work (100 interviewees), the devastating impact of the Great Recession on both groups is comparable and grim.
Here is a quick 10-fact summary of the center’s findings:
• Only 23 percent of workers over the age of 50 are working full-time.
• A total of 42 percent are either unemployed (35 percent) or working part-time, but looking for full-time jobs (6 percent).
• Slightly more than 20 percent of workers over 50 have dropped out of the labor market.
Re-employment, for those older workers who have had successful job searches, has not been easy.
• Almost half (48 percent) did not find a job for over a year.
• The majority (60 percent) of the re-employed workers accepted a pay cut, frequently substantial.
• Many of the older workers (42 percent) said that their new job was “very different” from their prior employment.
• The job search for older workers is prolonged: 80 percent of older workers have been seeking jobs for over one year and 50 percent for more than two years.
The impact of the recession on both unemployed and re-employed older workers has been drastic and negative.
• Their financial situation has worsened; most (85 percent) have less savings and income than they did before the recession.
• Their retirement plans have changed – 40 percent said they would have to work longer than they expected and almost half (46 percent) predict that they will have to file for Social Security earlier than they had previously planned.
• One-third of workers over 50 do not have health insurance and 50 percent said they have cut back on health care expenses.
We recently interviewed Sara Rix, senior strategic policy advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute. Her work focuses on labor force issues and the problems of older workers. Her complete interview is posted in the experts section of our website.
In the brief clip above, Rix talks about how difficult it is for unemployed older workers to determine what skills they need to become re-employed, how to figure out where they can obtain those skills and the need for resources targeted at older workers so that they can obtain training for the job skills they need.
Here’s the start of our April Stay Thirsty column:
It has been two years since we started interviewing unemployed older Americans for our multimedia documentary project Over 50 and Out of Work. When we began, the Great Recession, which lasted from December 2007 until June 2009, had already been declared over.
Yet in early 2010, millions of Americans of all ages were still unemployed. Jobless older workers confronted the highest rates of unemployment that their age group had ever faced in the United States. They worried about their futures. They knew they had less time to recoup their lost income and rebuild their savings than younger workers, especially when the average value of their homes had declined precipitously over the course of the recession.
Between February 2010 and June 2011, we conducted video interviews with 100 Americans, age 50-plus, for our project. We focused our interviews in the states with the highest unemployment rates at the time, including Michigan, California, Florida and Rhode Island.
How are our interviewees faring in 2012, given the passage of time since the end of the Great Recession and the recent uneven improvement in the economy?
Over the past two months, we reconnected with our 100 original interviewees to answer that question. In short: Not well.
Last week, we interviewed Jo Ann Jenkins, President of the AARP Foundation, and her full interview has been added to the experts section of our website. In it, she discusses the Foundation’s mission to help Americans 50 and older manage their incomes and find re-employment.
Earlier this week, the Over 50 team traveled to Washington, D.C.
We returned to the Urban Institute and re-interviewed Richard Johnson, senior fellow and director of the director of the center’s program on retirement policy, to update the information about unemployment among older workers that he provided in 2010.
We will be adding his complete interview to the expert section of our site soon, but above is a brief video clip from our recent interview in which he compares the current level of unemployment among 50+ workers to the level in 2009, when the Great Recession was declared over.
We learned about this report through an email from Phyllis Cummins, a co-author of the report from Miami University’s Scripps Gerontology Center. The report examines employment and training programs aimed at older workers. It is filled with facts relevant to our Over 50 and Out of Work multimedia documentary project:
- There are about 78 million boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, in the United States today.
- In 2010, 60 percent of the population was between the ages of 20 and 64, but by 2030, this percentage will decline to 55 percent.
- The aging of the population affects the distribution of the American workforce: In 1998, 12 percent of the workforce was 55+; in 2008, 18 percent of the workforce was over the age of 55 and by 2018, 24 percent of the workforce will be older than 55 years of age.
- By 2019, the entire boomer cohort will have reached age 55.
- Unemployment rates have risen dramatically for 55+ workers since the start of the Great Recession.
- “Despite unemployment rates below the national average, when job loss occurs, it takes older workers longer to find a job than their younger counterparts, and they generally experience a greater decline in wages when they become reemployed.”
- “Most unemployed older adults must manage their reemployment process without assistance from a former employer. Older unemployed workers, especially those with limited resources, may need to rely on either government or nonprofit organizations to assist in their job search.”
- Employment and training programs, such as the Senior Community Service Employment (SCSEP), the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), as well as private-public partnerships exist in a confusing and complex tangle of programs that are configured differently across the states.
- Funding is declining for programs that meet the needs of older unemployed workers, but the demand for such services is growing, given the size of the 55+ population and the negative impact the Great Recession had on its labor force participation.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Iowa Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have today joined with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to introduce legislation that revives vital civil rights protections for older workers that were limited following the Supreme Court’s decision in Gross v. FBL Financial. Harkin is Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee while Senators Leahy and Grassley are the Chairman and ranking member respectively of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Note: Over 50 and Out of Work’s June 2011 testimony before the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, is posted on The Importance of a Strong Middle Class page of Senator Tom Harkin’s website in the video “Stories from the Kitchen Table: How Middle Class Families Are Struggling to Make Ends Meet.”
On international unemployment among older workers:
I was “downsized” at 62 in October of 2008. I’ve never had trouble getting a job before and had never been downsized or fired before. I have worked as a computer programmer, systems analyst, office manager, executive assistant, marketing assistant, and human resources manager, but have worked mainly for small firms for the CEO directly and have only once experienced what I believe every willing worker wants: appreciation. Until now.
I do bookkeeping for several clients on Quickbooks Pro. Since I was not familiar with the program, I took a quick course in it to be sure I am competent, but it is similar to Excel and Access, using cells the contents of which are accessible and can be inserted into mathematical formulas to create numbers for the reports businesses need. These are beautiful programs. I have also used Excel to excess for salesmen keeping track of sales by item, customer, and month for commission reconciliation and producing pivot charts to assist in analyzing and forecasting sales.
Organization is the platform for productivity and I love to organize. I redesigned the office layout for one client tripling his usable workspace and making the flow through the office much more efficient. He loves the result and I managed to keep the cost below $100 to him. I have also reorganized people in offices, in one case improving profits with that one change by 400%.
And finally, I’m pretty good at making technology work. Often my previous experience in solving these problems comes in handy, but sometimes it’s just time and patience that win day. Being a good researcher and an engaging caller to the right vendor or representative in a vendor’s office is also very useful in getting over a mountain of trouble.
Last, but not least, I also work two afternoons/week as an after-school care worker at a private school within walking distance of my home. The pay is surprisingly good and I have so much fun doing it that I find myself organizing my other clients so that I will not have to miss this interlude with the kids.
I currently make about 1/5 what I used to make, work about 1/4 the time I used to work and have about 500% more fun and 1,000% more appreciation. I have had to “downsize” my lifestyle quite a bit and broaden my income sources (renting out a room in the house, doing odd jobs, etc.), but honestly, I haven’t had this much fun since I was five. My clients love me and my work and tell me constantly how much they appreciate what I do – and I love doing it because I’m only doing what I’m really good at and I only work till I’m done with my “magic,” then I move on. It’s a great life. Of course, I am single and no one suffers my loss of income but me, but everyone I care about enjoys my joy in my life. I would like to have more money, and I know how to get it – work more. That choice is in front of me. Even better, it is all mine.
Wendy W. Tedder
Definitely over 50 and out of work, but loving it.
Last month, Over 50 and Out of Work screened a rough cut of one segment of our documentary-in-the-making at a career networking group meeting in Bronxville, N.Y. The section we previewed focuses on Joe P., 52, a former steelworker from Weirton, W.Va.
Joe followed in the footsteps of both his father and grandfather when he signed on at the steel mill as a young man. He anticipated that he would make a good living and looked forward to a secure retirement, but his career did not turn out as he expected. He was laid off seven times over his 25 years in the mill due to the decline in U.S. steel manufacturing and his pension benefit was cut drastically when Weirton Steel declared bankruptcy in 2003.
Joe clung for years to the hope that he would be able to do the work he loved in the mill, but he gradually realized and accepted that he would have to begin a new career in his fifties. Remarkably, he succeeded due to his persistence and determination. He now works as a machinist at a plant in Pennsylvania that manufactures solar mirrors.
Although our screening audience in Bronxville consisted of former bankers, information technology project managers, teachers and graphic designers rather than steelworkers like Joe, they recognized and often shared the hardships caused by prolonged periods of unemployment that Joe faced – financial difficulties, health insurance concerns, worries about retirement and the future, loss of self-esteem, age discrimination and a frustrating job search.
Older workers frequently grapple with feelings of isolation and embarrassment about their unemployed status as they hunt for new jobs. One goal of Over 50 and Out of Work, both through our website and our documentary, is to demonstrate to 50-plus unemployed or underemployed workers that they are not alone.
Bill Davis, one of our original 100 interviewees, founded a successful executive recruitment company that foundered during the Great Recession. In 2009, he closed his business. Since that time, he has struggled to find employment and financial stability in the Myrtle Beach/Conway area of South Carolina. After three difficult years of hardship, Bill has returned to work as a used car salesman and feels a measure of renewed hope about his future.
Bill sent us this post for our site:
Five years ago, in 2007, my business began to decline. Within two years I had to close it. Shortly afterward, I learned my house, a beautiful home that I loved, on the lake, had a defect (synthetic stucco) that suddenly left me with a huge mortgage in a house that was worth about a third of that mortgage. Bankruptcy. For the next two years I worked at various sales jobs. We rented – at first it was ok. When I say we I mean me and my two young sons, both in high school at the time. I was a single Dad. I kept telling myself, “Turn the page, your life starts now”. I was never good with money unless you count earning a lot of it. I figured everything would always go on as it was. After all, it had been going well for most of my life.
I came to Dayton, Ohio in 1956; I was five years old. My family of Mom, Dad and five brothers and two sisters all got there somehow from Crossville, Tennessee, where I was born. Sometimes on the trip to Dayton I would lie up on the shelf behind the back seat under the back window of our car. I don’t remember what kind of a car it was but that it was big and had big fins on the back. I liked riding there and looking up at the sky – sometimes the sun would shine through the glass. At first it felt nice and warm but after a while sometimes it got too hot and I would switch. One of us always had to ride there for there to be enough room.
I came from an affluent enough family in Tennessee. My grandparents on my dad’s side were land owners and built roads and schoolhouses and such all over that part of the Eastern Tennessee mountains. My dad was a High School Graduate, a pretty big thing in those parts in those times. The Davis family in Cumberland County and surrounding counties went back to the 1700s. My dad’s secret marriage to my mother, when discovered by my grandparents created a hullabaloo that went on for some time. She was a “Bound Girl” at twelve. The family she was bound to grew to love her and sent her to the same private school that their children went to. At first there was controversy about her attending. It wasn’t just that she was a bound girl but also that she didn’t look really “white”. Mother came from a part of the Cumberland Plateau where Indians and poor white trash lived, called the Flat Corner.
Mother was beautiful. She had a nearly translucent, olive-colored skin, wide-set deep brown eyes above high, but soft cheek-bones. Her hair was as black as a raven’s wing but had curl to it. Her beauty was as complete as a woman’s can be. In her dark and deep eyes, a life of truth spoken gave way to a life of wisdom gained from living a long life, viewing the world honestly. My dad loved her instantly when he met her in town.
She had eight children, me being one. Every one of us believed that she loved us most. Every one of knew that to speak ill of one of the others would bring a rebuke from Mother that would cause us to get from Mother what we least wanted, her disappointment.
When we got to Dayton, I was five. We lived in an old part of town where many families from Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia lived. I remember being in school for the first time and I remember for the first time being embarrassed by how I talked. The influx of workers from the southern states bordering Ohio in 1956 was not widely welcome by the local population. A southern accent was not greeted well on the school yard. I started getting into fist-fights early.
Time went along, I got tough enough in fist-fighting but not tough enough for the rest of it. My dad was the strangest kind of alcoholic. He would work as a bricklayer, building houses that he bid on and make a lot of money. Then he would get drunk – every day, all day. He literally stayed drunk all his waking hours.
I love some of the things he did with us and places he took us as kids. But he had problems. I was never close to him and we only spoke when some kind of communication was necessary. When he was not drunk he was angry – I mean verbally insane at times.
I joined the Marines soon after I turned eighteen in 1970. I did well in the Corps. They sent me to college. I learned the responsibility of managing people and responsibility to an important job. When I left the Corps I was well prepared for a career in Information Technology. I worked for a number of fortune companies as a software developer. I started my first business in my 30s, made it a success, sold it then moved to an island off Wilmington, NC. Life was good for a long time for me and my boys.
Five years ago, my life began to change, slowly at first then dramatically. Like I said, I was not good with money. I never saved much. I one time put a lot of money (for me) in the stock market and two weeks later I lost half of what I invested. So when I got started making good money again I poured it into my house.
When it all crashed down around me I had lost everything. One of the inspectors I hired told me the best way to fix my house was to bulldoze it to the ground and start over. I owned an employment agency placing IT folks. Business began to fall off and continued to fall of after the .com bubble burst and it just kept going down. I lost my house. Within two years I had to close my business. I got a job in staffing with a major company but within a month they started laying off and I was gone – unemployed. Bills started piling up. I got a route sales job and managed to make ends meet barely until my car died. Hearing of my situation my niece in Conway, SC asked me to come down and try to get the business going again. We tried and almost made it, but not quite. By then I was broke. I had to have money fast. I took a job driving a taxi and spent the next three years doing ok in the tourist season and being evicted every year in the winter. By then only my youngest son lived with me. He was seventeen at the time. I had to pull him out of his high school near the end of his senior year. For him, his life felt ruined. But remember I had raised him as a single dad from the time he was two years old. We were and are close – as close as a father and son can be. He never spoke of it or blamed me we just went on – together. We have had our ups and downs during the last three years. In the summer we both work and we manage to get by. Several times in the winter we sat together in the community center food bank.
I won’t tell you that it wasn’t bad. It was. But finally, after three years I have a good job. I had the great fortune to be hired by a decent family that has the largest and best, used car lot in Myrtle Beach. I am knocking it out now and loving it. I have money enough now that I’m getting my life back. I got my son a job there as a detailer. We have one car. What good fortune that was. I feel happy and blessed.
I am sixty years old. You can believe me when I tell you I have seen a lot of life. But the last few years have been different. I’ve learned hardship, humility and humiliation. Poverty is a hard thing. I wonder if it will ever leave me. Perhaps there is a blessing in that. W.F. ‘Bill’ Davis
Before being laid off in January 2009, Philip Turner had worked as an editorial executive at major publishing houses for more than twenty years, publishing many award-winning books and several bestsellers. He’s warded off what he calls in this personal essay the “demons of disemployment” through his conviction that while work lends meaning and structure to life, the loss of a job needn’t entirely erase purpose from one’s life, even if it is a struggle to maintain. Additionally, Turner’s experience–he earlier ran a bookstore for seven years–has enabled him to create a business in which he provides writing and editorial services to a variety of clients.
Philip sent us this post from his blog to add to our site:
Three Years Ago Today
On January 14, 2009, I was laid off as Editorial Director of Sterling Publishing’s Union Square Press, an imprint of narrative nonfiction books I had been recruited to run two years earlier. I recall the anxiety I felt upon being summoned to the office of the HR director; the sick-making sensation that shot through my gut upon receiving the news; that my email was shut off by the time I returned to my office; and the way I was instructed to leave Sterling’s offices for the final time, informed that whatever personal effects I couldn’t grab then would be shipped to my home. If you’ve never had this happen to you, I must say it is not something you can prepare yourself for. Even though I was not surprised to get laid off in the middle of the worst financial crisis in eighty years, it nonetheless registered as a deep shock. Later that dark week, I sent an email to all my contacts, headed “Moving on From Sterling,” for that’s what I had already begun to do. There being no prospect for another staff position anywhere soon, in the weeks that followed I incorporated a business in the state of New York, Philip Turner Book Productions LLC, and began cultivating clients for what would be–perforce–my own editorial services business.
Now, thirty-six months to the day from January 14, 2009, looking back across my self-employment I see I’ve written jacket and catalog copy for publishers; guest-taught five straight years at a graduate school seminar for journalism students in a non-fiction book-writing class; given a fresh professional polish to the résumés and cover letters of many job-seekers, not just my own; published a personal essay about my experience working with William Styron; written, co-written, and re-written manuscripts; and brought out one book as publisher under my own name in an eponymous imprint. I find I’ve also edited a bevy of terrific manuscripts, including a generational novel about the son of a third-generation Italian-American family returning to his family’s historic village; an ambitious novel of ideas about the American presidency in 2025; a true crime thriller about a marijuana dealer marooned in a Cambodian prison; a treatise on why religious believers and atheists both miss the point about the nature of existence; and co-agented the sale to a publisher of a large-hearted examination of how America’s firefighters, cops, emergency service providers, and veterans can heal from the trauma they experience while keeping the rest of us safe and secure.
While I’ve been operating and growing my business amid publishing’s lurching transition from a model exclusively reliant on the printed book to the burgeoning ebook model, I’ve continued to feel the tug of being back inside a publishing house where books are being excitedly sized up and acquired and published with energy and focus. As a result, I’ve put my oar in for more than twenty editorial positions at publishing houses, though the penny has not yet dropped for me on any of these. Recently, I’ve been applying for open positions at political and news websites, an area–given my passion for politics, news, and media–that I’ve long been interested in pursuing. With the skills I’ve gained curating, writing, and building out this website, I feel especially well-suited to a job like that now.
I was reminded of all this early in the past week, when I wrote this post about a New York Times deliveryman in the Bay Area who’d lost his job during the holidays last month. There was also the news that Barnes & Noble, which owns Sterling Publishing, has put the company up for sale. These events have put me in mind of the time I was laid off, reminding me that in April 2009 I was interviewed for this segment on the public radio program “The Takeaway,” about the different ways that people leave jobs. For “Last Letters and Parting Shots: How to Say Goodbye at Work” a correspondent with the charming name of Femi Oke and a musical voice that went along with it, asked me to read from “Moving on From Sterling” for her story. While my part in the eight-minute segment begins at around 5:56, it’s all interesting three years after it first aired.
As I listened to it again today, I realized that in Spring 2009 my lay-off was only a few months old, and the recession–which I date from the mid-September 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers amid the final catastrophic months of the Bush presidency–was only four months older than that. I might have been somewhat fortunate in losing my staff job relatively early in the collapse, though it’s not as if this somehow enabled me to regain a staff job more rapidly. I hadn’t yet begun to really glimpse “the long, strange trip” I was embarked upon, nor that of the rest of the country and the wider world. An uncountable number of my fellow human beings have lost their job since mine went away. Accompanying the chorus of The Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’” I just invoked, my inner musical ear is also hearing the chorus to Dylan’s “My Back Pages,” “Ah, but I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.” Although I did my best to feel optimistic then, I am more hopeful now than I was then, while chastened by the whole experience.
For a blog essay like this, I would normally have quoted from my email “Moving on From Sterling.” However, in a way that seems oddly apt, my email address was hijacked last March, and I lost all my archived email prior to that date. It caused me a lot of grief at the time, but looking back on it now in regard to this anniversary, I’m not sorry about it. In fact, it seems in keeping with the line I read on “The Takeaway” about leaving the job being a kind of “liberation.” Still, the flip side of that liberation is being “at liberty”–a euphemism for being out of work. The biggest challenge of the past three years has not so much been the unemployment, but more precisely, dueling with the demons of ‘disemployment,’ a word used less frequently, but one that much more viscerally describes the specter of purposelessness, the absence of meaningful work, the loss of collegiality, and the fear of invisibility that laps like the tide at the edges of one’s sense of self.
January 15 update: Since I posted this essay yesterday I’ve gained some additional perspective, seeing now that one of the notable developments of the past three years has been finding my own self as a writer. After so many years of handling other people’s words, it was time I found my own voice. This website and blog are in aid of that.
This past weekend, the Over 50 team traveled to California to do some shooting for our documentary.
In San Diego, we interviewed Bruce Marks, founder of NACA, Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, a nonprofit community advocacy and homeownership organization. At NACA’s American Dream events, held in major cities across the country, NACA brings together its own financial counselors, representatives from mortgage lenders and struggling borrowers. Working together, they hammer out affordable mortgage terms so that homeowners can meet their payments and hang onto their homes.
We learned about NACA from one of our South Carolina interviewees who faced the risk of imminent foreclosure. NACA helped her renegotiate her mortgage and lower her monthly payments. She made her first reduced mortgage payment this past January and, to her great relief, will now be able to remain in her home.
We have added Marks’s interview about NACA to the Experts section of our site.
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Recently, we were also invited to speak about Over 50 and Out of Work at the Bronxville Career Network monthly meeting, held in Bronxville, N.Y. by Pat Drew, one of the group’s organizers, a career coach and a former New York Times human resources director.
At the networking group’s meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 15, we screened a rough cut of the first third of our documentary, which focuses on Joe Price, a former steelworker from Weirton, W.V.
It was a terrific experience to show a section of our documentary to the members of the career network group, and we want to express our appreciation for the opportunity!
Subsequent to the meeting, Drew wrote in an email:
Thank you for sharing your powerful documentary “Over 50 and Out of Work,” about the extreme difficulties faced by those during this recession, and particularly those in their 50s. The documentary was touching and exposed the real hardships people are enduring. It also portrayed resilience in face of extreme obstacles…something from which we can all learn.
Thank you for sharing it with our Bronxville Career Network. The discussion offered ways to everyone to persevere and succeed in face of adversity.
We were very saddened to learn that that Jessica Goldstein, one of our interviewees and wife of Brian King, passed away yesterday, Feb. 7. Not long after we interviewed Jessica and Brian in early 2010, she was diagnosed with cancer.
The Over 50 team and community extend our deepest sympathy to Jessica’s family.
In their video interview, Jessica and Brian speak eloquently about unemployment. Both Brian and Jessica lost their jobs in 2009 as a consequence of the Great Recession.
For a broader perspective on Jessica’s rich life, here is an excerpt from the Theatre Puget Sound blog about Jessica:
Jess passed away early this morning at her home in New York after a valiant fight with an extremely aggressive and deadly cancer. With her were family including her beloved husband Brian and their son Jonah. Her life in art was diversified, rich and full and I can offer only a fragment of it. Again, I hope you will find a way to present a fuller description of this most amazing human being but here are some items from my personal store of memories.
Having studied with Sanford Meisner, I consider Jessica one of the finest and most effective practitioners of the Meisner technique there was; she taught its pure form with great passion, devotion and integrity. She taught acting to hundreds of people at Freehold and beyond and held popular audition clinics where she often matched students to monologues from the hundreds of plays lining her office with uncanny accuracy.
As an actress, she was a commanding presence and wonderful to work with (Scotland Road, the Empty Space, 1996). Offstage, she was one of the funniest people in the world with her New York edge (including hilarious mock-Yiddish delivered in an old cocker’s voice); she was just so specific she could nail a situation or a personality with absolutely le mot juste. Jessica never made a big deal of it, but she was also a great, great beauty with the most arresting face and blazing, penetrating eyes. Her voice was amazing, powerful and deep it would gather into a huge rolling laugh that was worth being funny for.
What always amazed me was her generosity, her ability to accept people as they were and her boundless boundless capacity to love.
Here is an excerpt from my Feb. Stay Thirsty column:
“I feel like we’re the throwaway generation,” Mickey O., 56, said about the Baby Boomers’ role in the economy.
Despite faltering gains in the wake of the Great Recession, approximately three million older Americans remain unemployed, and this number, of course, does not capture the millions who have given up on the job search and are no longer counted or the severely underemployed who can barely scrape by or the 60-plus-year-olds who have been driven to claim Social Security benefits earlier than they had planned because they could not find jobs.
When the Great Recession began in mid-2007, fewer than 1.5 million older Americans were out of work. Episodes of joblessness for older workers at the time were typically short-lived. Seniority and years of experience shielded older employees and made them valuable to employers.
Fast-forward to now, the start of 2012. Conditions for older jobseekers are little improved, more than two years after the downturn was declared over in December 2009. The majority of older workers who lose their jobs face at least a one-year struggle to find work. Their job search often turns into a two- or three-year odyssey of financial, familial and personal hardship. Even when they are successful and find work, they generally must accept a lower rate of pay.
We are always questioned about the handful of happy endings for our interviewees: Did any of your project participants find jobs?
Lately, we’ve posted a few articles on our social media about hiring trends and tips. The online responses have been mostly negative, which is somewhat surprising, given the challenging job market that older unemployed workers in the United States face.
The WSJ reported in a recent story that some companies are no longer using resumes to screen applicants. Employers are requiring candidates to complete surveys or quizzes. They are also requesting that jobseekers submit video profiles or prove that they have an online presence as a blogger or Twitterer.
Here are a couple of responses posted on our page about this hiring trend:
“Bring it back the old-fashioned way!!! Face to face!”
“It all is just giving me a headache!”
• Right now, there are over 13 million unemployed Americans and approximately three million of them are over the age of 50. We can all agree that these figures understate the number of people who are out of work. The figures don’t include discouraged jobseekers who are no longer looking, severely underemployed people who are barely surviving financially, or unemployed older workers who would like to work, but have opted to claim their Social Security benefits at the earliest possible date because they couldn’t find jobs.
• It is currently estimated that there are more than four applicants for every job opening, but, of course, the reality is that the ratio is higher in certain industries and regions of the country.
•The average number of weeks that all workers are out of work is almost 40 weeks. For workers who are 55-plus, the average amount of time is over 52 weeks.
Even though the Great Recession ended according to economists in December 2009, it’s still tough to land a job, especially if you are 50-plus. There’s no getting around this dismaying fact.
Last year, according to another WSJ story, Starbucks received 7.6 million applicants for 65,000 openings. That’s over 100 resumes per job! Proctor and Gamble was inundated with one million applications for 2,000 jobs. That’s 500 candidates per opening! Human resource departments are overwhelmed by the deluge of applications and cannot evaluate them individually.
These odds are daunting, and jobseekers who are 50-plus need to find ways to distinguish themselves from the pack of job hunters. They should seize the opportunity to use creative ways to demonstrate the value of their hard-won life experience and on-the-job wisdom, as well as their ability to stay current with industry trends and technology.
Embrace the new hiring trends bandwagon and get on it, however you can.
Upgrade your skills, create an online presence, make a video profile. Differentiate yourself. Demonstrate the power of your mature brain, which is better suited to problem solving and sifting through information to see patterns and find solutions, based on prior experience, than a younger brain. Knowledgeable workers who can solve problems are the people companies hire.
“In the past workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But today, average is officially over,” wrote Thomas Friedman in a recent NYT editorial.
Successful U.S. firms continue to find ways to be more productive with fewer workers. Some of our interviewees figured out labor market trends and the moral of Friedman’s story because they had first-hand experience with unemployment and suffered financially and personally.
“I was so shocked when I went back up to converting, but in my last couple of days, they took me back up there to see where the company had gone. I was so shocked, because when I first started, there was 25 people in a room. 30. All making on one old machine. Now, I go in there, there’s machinery everywhere and tracks and that, and they’re all computerized, and there’s three or four people in the same room. But they outproduce that 30.”
Two years ago, when we met Kevin in Green Bay, he was on the verge of completing an associate’s degree as well as working part-time at a sporting goods store, but very disheartened about his future full-time job prospects. He expresses his frustration in his video interview, but Kevin has turned out to be one of the few Over 50 interviewees who has been able to return to a full-time job with benefits, and he now works for NAPA, where he continues to advance in the company.
A couple of weeks ago, the wordpress blog that underlies our site was hacked and our pages began to look like advertising for an online pharmacy. Our site was giving us conniptions, and we apologize for any confusion the hack caused.
Neither Sam nor I have the expertise to fix the problem, and our site developer was also stumped. We sent a desperate email to our interviewee Ken Wadland, a software development expert. Although Ken is currently traveling in Cambodia, he responded promptly, diagnosed the issue and referred us to a wordpress specialist who fixed the hack for us.
Twelve percent of our interviewees have already responded to our two-year follow up survey. Email answers came from New York, New Jersey, Florida, Michigan, Rhode Island and California.
On average, the 12 interviewees have been out of work for more than two years, and the majority of them remain unemployed or severely underemployed.
All 12 of these interviewees now have a lower standard of living than they did before they lost their job as a consequence of the Great Recession, and most of them do not expect to regain the financial health they had attained before they experienced joblessness.
One of the 12 has been able to return to a full-time job with benefits, although she is making two-thirds of her former salary.
One became an entrepreneur and founded her own company.
Three are working as independent contractors without benefits at a rate of pay 33 to 50 percent less than they earned previously.
Two are working at one or more part-time jobs without benefits. They are earning a small fraction of their prior salaries.
One, who did return to work full-time after his initial job loss, decided to voluntarily retire, cut back on his spending and live on his savings and investments.
One, who receives Social Security, is still interviewing and seeking full-time employment.
Three are currently not employed for serious personal or familial health reasons.
We asked our interviewees to comment on the American Dream in the follow up survey and here’s one response:
“You know, as a kid of the 60′s, the “American Dream” never resonated for me. If anything, the American Dream is defined for me by something Bill Clinton used to say about working hard and playing by the rules and getting ahead. I’ve worked hard, I’ve worked pretty much non stop since I was in my late teens (breaks for college and a few years as a stay at home mom). I played by the rules, paid my taxes, blah blah blah. I was a good employee, was appreciated for the work I did with support, praise and monetary reward and my lifestyle increased as my pay increased. I never cheated anyone to get ahead, never played games with other people’s lives (banks and sub-prime mortgage-backed securities – I’m pointing at you!) and still I was whacked upside the head. I’m so lucky to have suffered as little from my jobless experience as I did, but I pay constant attention to jobless rates and news, knowing that I still have friends that haven’t been able to turn it around. The American Dream should be that we all have the right and the chance to get ahead by working hard and playing by the rules.”
As our followers and site visitors know, we have completed 100 interviews with Americans who are 50-plus and unemployed, and now we are working on a documentary that will explore more fully the issues raised in those interviews.
We began this project almost exactly two years ago, so we are now conducting a survey of our 100 project participants and asking them the following questions:
Have you been able to return to work?
If so, how long were you unemployed?
Please summarize what impact unemployment has had on you and your family financially, physically and emotionally.
If you have been able to get back to work:
Are you working full-time or part-time?
How do your current pay and benefits compare to what your received previously?
What tips or advice would you give to other older workers who are trying to find a job?
Overall, how has your life changed as a consequence of job loss at the age of 50-plus?
What does the American Dream mean to you today? What did it mean to you when you began working?
We will update our project participants’ pages when we receive their responses and post some of their answers on our social media. We look forward to reconnecting with our interviewees and sharing their updates.
Recently, we talked with one of our interviewees who was not able to make her mortgage payments after she lost her job in 2009. She was fearful that she would lose her home.
Last December, she attended a NACA (Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America) workshop in Charlotte, N.C. and the nonprofit helped her renegotiate the terms of her mortgage with Chase. This month, she made her first mortgage payment in three years. She anticipates with great relief that she will be able to remain current on her future payments and remain in her home.
We have added NACA to our resources page and are hoping to interview its founder, Bruce Marks, in the near future.
NACA will hold the American Dream convention from Tuesday, Jan. 10 until Sunday, Jan. 15 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. If you live in the area and need help renegotiating your mortgage, check out the information on NACA’s site and plan to attend the convention.
NACA will be holding similar events around the country over the coming months, so check the schedule on its home page.
We remain very grateful to all of our interviewees who participated in our multimedia documentary project, sharing their life stories and unemployment experiences.
We are relieved that most of our original 100 interviewees are now back to work, although many are still severely underemployed and continue to struggle financially.
We appreciate the contributions that experts have made to our project and the comments and feedback from our many friends and followers.
We are also pleased that Over 50 and Out of Work has helped jobless Americans of all ages feel less isolated and depressed and that our project has directly helped several individuals return to work.
We are grateful for the exposure the project has received on ABC News@WORK with Tory Johnson, CBS News radio, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal Digital Network SmartMoney.com, abcnews.com, forbes.com and the Huffington Post and StayThisty.com. We are delighted that we were invited to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee in June 2011.
We are very appreciative to all our supporters on kickstarter.com who pledged over $2500 in less than 40 days to fund archival research and purchases for the documentary we are creating that will explore more dramatically the themes and issues surrounding unemployment and underemployment among older Americans.
Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year! We hope all those who are seeking employment find it in 2012.
Here’s the start of my December Stay Thirsty column:
Last month, New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg evicted the Occupy Wall Street protestors from Zuccotti Park. Now that many cities across the country have cracked down on the encampments in public spaces, what direction will the movement take?
Over the few weeks of its existence in Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street was an amazing place to see citizens exercising their rights to assemble and speak freely. By mid-November the Siena Research Institute reported that two-thirds of voters were paying attention to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Voters, by a two-to-one margin, said the movement does not represent 99 percent of Americans, but 58 percent of voters believed that the protestors should be allowed to camp in parks overnight.
Now that the movement has been forced by authorities to disperse, can Occupy Wall Street regroup and redefine itself? Can the energy of the movement get harnessed to the old-fashioned ideal of making sure all Americans get a fair shake – my assessment of what the movement is about, despite its numerous voices and varied goals.
When I traveled in Ireland with my family a couple of summers ago, our tour guide pointed out Bono’s estate to us. The guide said that an Irishman would say, “I’d like to knock him off and live there myself.” He contrasted that attitude with what he believed the typical American would say: “I’ll have a place like that myself someday.”
His anecdote pointed to the belief in socioeconomic mobility that underlies the American Dream and its implicit assumption of fairness – that workers will receive a reasonable wage for their labor and that they will have opportunities to save, purchase homes, provide education for their children and achieve financial security, if not rock star wealth.
Faith in the American Dream is eroding, as income inequality widens in the United States and the number of unemployed remains stuck at approximately 14 million, a number we all know by now significantly underestimates the actual number of suffering Americans, many of whom are severely underemployed workers or discouraged jobseekers.
Bill Davis, 60, one of our 100 interviewees, who is still seeking full-time employment, contributed this piece describing how he felt about the loss of his home in 2008 to foreclosure :
One summer day in 2008, I walked out the sliding glass door that led from my sunroom onto the back deck of my house. I walked over and flipped on the main light switch that lit up my back yard, two acres of manicured lawn with little ‘islands’ that featured flowering shrubs or a dogwood tree, and each had a light that shined up so that every little island was a special feature within the large green lawn. In the woods that surrounded the property along the boundary line were other lights, high up in the trees so that when the main switch was turned on, it lit up the entire area behind my home.
This home was the crowning jewel of all my hard work, savings and plans for over 20 years. As I looked out over the scene it no longer felt like a thing that was mine – mine to enjoy, mine to call home. I stood for a long time, remembering my boys growing up here, racing about with their friends, the birthday parties we’d had with all our friends over. It was like looking at a postcard of some beautiful place, bright with color but just an image, a two-dimensional representation of something that was real, but that I was not part of – not any longer.
Turning back inside, I went and sat on my couch. I looked around the family room at the pieces of furniture – mahogany chests and cherry wood tables, glowing from the polish applied with caring, loving hands. These things were mine; they were part of me. Each piece represented a kind of accomplishment, an addition to the accumulated totality of my life. They were more than just things, each had a history, a story. And I felt like crying.
Earlier in the day the sheriff had posted a notice to evacuate the premises, a foreclosure notice. I would be packing up and leaving in just a matter of a few weeks. All the furniture, my boat, everything would go to either to the bankruptcy court or the IRS. I had been forced to close my employment agency because the economy would no longer sustain it. Trying to keep things going, I had gone through most of my savings and investments. I was broke and had just enough money left to rent an apartment.
Telling my kids that we would have to leave our home had been the hardest. They would have to change schools. We would be leaving our friends and neighbors. I was unemployed and getting older. The skills I had developed over the preceding 15 years had little practical application in the current marketplace. As I sat down with my kids and explained this, I knew that this was just the beginning – harder times yet, I feared would be coming. I couldn’t then have imagined how true this would turn out to be.
When we were at Zuccotti Park recently, we interviewed Eli Wright, who served as a U.S. Army combat medic in Iraq in 2003 and 2004. Originally from Denver, he now resides in New York City.
“I hate to say it, but I honestly think that since I’ve come home from Iraq, or since I went to Iraq, the American Dream has become a nightmare,” Wright said. He worries about his infant daughter’s future, as well as the future for all veterans and many Americans.
Last spring, we interviewed Olive Lynch for our older entrepreneur blog series about her plans to found an innovative food waste recycling company. This week, she emailed to let us know that she has found a location for her start-up biotech firm, and she continues to make progress on the required regulatory approvals.
Last week, we interviewed Andrew Ryan, 59, a retired auto worker and activist, at Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park.
“I think the American Dream probably has only existed for a very short time in this country — that might have been directly after Second World War and running up into the Sixties at some point,” Ryan said.
Dorothy Carlos, whom we interviewed early in 2010, sent us an email this week. She wrote about a fee she was charged by her bank, without any explanation. She challenged the fee and was told it was $10.00 charge for a fax sent to another bank that requested information on her mortgage!
The imposition of this fee prompted Dorothy to write to us and express her support for the Occupy Wall Street movement:
“I am writing you to make a comment about the OWS and how very important it is and what just happened to me. I received my statement for my Mtg [mortgage] and noticed a $10.00 amount listed which just said OTHER with no explanation for the charge. I called Wells Fargo to inquire about this charge and was informed that this was due to the fact that another institution had made an inquiry as to my pay off and this charge paid for the fax that WELLS FARGO had sent. This is just another way these banks are ripping off borrowers A Charge for a fax and then no explanation for it, just added on to your mortgage payment. I only wish I was able to leave this banking institution but I can at least let others know of their banking practices and hope borrowers stay away.”
As a result of protests sparked by the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Credit Union National Association estimates that 40,000 consumers opened accounts on November 5, “Bank Transfer Day,” transferring $80 million in savings into credit unions across the country. Between Sept. 29 and the first week of November, 650,000 consumers opened new credit union accounts with a total of $4.5 billion, said Patrick O’Keefe, communications spokesperson for the association.
Last Wednesday, when we returned to Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti Park, veterans marched around the park to show their support for the occupiers and protestors. We interviewed George Weber, 63, a Vietnam veteran from Monroe, N.Y.
Also, the AARP recently began offering a one-year free membership for anyone who is over 50 and out of work. You can check it out here.
This new post was submitted by Jeffrey Koconis. Jeffrey has written for our blog previously. In an earlier post, he described his bank’s unwillingness to help him refinance his mortgage after he was laid off from the job that he had held for 33 years.
I Tried, No More
I’ve tried really hard to do the right things all my life, and now it just seems to have been all a miserable, tragic hoax. Looking back now at how the system in this country treats it’s citizens has come home. Going to work every single day for 33 years was supposedly something to be proud of, which should have been recognized and applauded, a sacrifice of mind and body that warranted some measure of appreciation when the final day came. Then when you have the rug of false reality pulled out from under you, treated like a dangerous criminal as you get walked out the door, something dies.
It wasn’t just the coldness of the heartless people following orders from above, but their cunning plan to steal my retirement, thus getting rid of my financial burden on their precious P & L for my remaining years that still makes me livid. But I tried to take the high road, and as each new challenge smacked me in the face I kept an optimistic attitude. No more. They have beaten me down mercilessly at every step of the way, and I have finally come to grips with the fact that the system is hopelessly broken.
Ask people you know how hard it is to find work these days, particularly us baby boomers, or get affordable health insurance, or get mortgage help from the bank you have faithfully paid, every month, your whole adult life. Good luck, not happening.
I am sick of people saying, “As bad as this country is, it still is the best country in the world.” Really? Wait until the rug gets pulled out from them. What metrics are they using? Education? Poverty? Health? Crime? Wealth distribution? Discrimination? Economy? Oh, Military Power of course. And thank goodness there isn’t any wasteful spending, or special interest groups with the real power, money, making national policy.
Seriously, what is it that people are looking at? They are concerned with their own asses, plain and simple, and as long as their basic needs are satisfied, and they are thrown a crumb or two, the masses will continue to believe. But when they get a taste of what their system would do to them in a heartbeat, should their usefulness be deemed expendable, then talk to me.
So yes, I am done believing. As far as I’m concerned it’s like Humpty Dumpty. All the pieces can’t be put together again, and I now doubt if they ever even were. Listening to the raging arguments by the so-called intelligent leaders of this nation, along with their narrow-minded and zealous supporters makes me ill. I trust others can see how inept they are, and have been, for a long time. If they were so damn smart, or even mildly capable, do you think we would have these mammoth problems? This country is all about money and greed, period.
Now I am finished ranting, knowing it does nothing but help get it off my chest. When the Sheriff comes to foreclose, I’ll understand. When the hospital asks what insurance I have and I tell them none because I can’t afford it, but I’ll be happy to pay them, if I could, but of course I won’t be able to. When the next young person with half of my intelligence, and even less experience tells me I’m not qualified for a job position, I’ll laugh.
When I stop paying my bills, I’ll be done trying, and at this rate that day is coming soon, here in the ‘greatest’ country on Earth.
“Where is my American Dream?” read a sign held by Gerlyne Maitre, 29, of Mount Vernon, N.Y. Maitre, a graduate of Hunter College with a degree in sociology, cannot find full-employment. She accepts every temporary part-time job she is offered and works hard, but she cannot see a promising future ahead for herself. She contrasts her life experience to that of her parents, Haitian immigrants who came to the United States in their twenties. Her father became a teacher, and her mother, a registered nurse.
“The American Dream is not a reality for me anymore because I don’t have that house; I don’t have a car. I can barely afford to keep living and paying for my bills. Eating and stuff like that is a struggle,” Maitre said.
Last night, Stay Thirsty published a special report by Over 50 and Out of Work on Occupy Wall Street:
On Thursday, October 13, Over 50 and Out of Work went to Zuccotti Park to interview protestors at Occupy Wall Street and to shoot footage of the nascent movement.
Occupiers, activists, drop-in protestors, hippies, commuters, passersby, tourists, construction workers, financial district employees, media, the police and the curious crowd Zuccotti Park and its surrounding sidewalks to participate in or pass through Occupy Wall Street. The small park has become a gathering place for speechmakers, debaters, mobilizers, hangers-on, drifters, artists, opportunists, pushcart vendors and performers.
It’s a remarkable scene and an amazing thing to see Americans exercising their rights to assemble and speak freely.
To read the rest of the article and to see the video interviews we conducted at Zuccotti Park, click here.
On Thursday, Oct. 13, we interviewed Rosina Grignetti, 52, at Occupy Wall Street. Grignetti works as a home health aide in Lexington, Mass. on weekends. She had traveled to Zuccotti Park midweek to join the occupiers and plans to return.
Last Thursday at Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park, we interviewed Rick DeVoe, 54. DeVoe relocated to Easthampton, Mass. after he lost his union construction job two and one-half years ago in Las Vegas, Nev. when the development of the almost 17 million square foot CityCenter was completed.
Take a look at his video interview in which he explains why he is participating in Occupy Wall Street:
Yesterday, we went to Zuccotti Park to interview protestors at Occupy Wall Street and to shoot footage of the nascent movement.
Signs held by protestors: “Tax me like a hedge fund manager” and “The world should be owned by the people living in it.”
“I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one!”
“Ban ‘naked’ credit default swaps.”
Occupiers, above, speaking from the wall surrounding the park. Protestors and activists, as well as passersby, tourists, media and financial district employees are all in the crowd.
Police, behind the speakers who are standing on the wall, outside the park on Liberty Street.
Construction workers, eating lunch, and police on the south side of the park.
“Finance job losses: 10K predicted.”
A street debate provoked by the “Finance job losses” sign and Occupy Wall Street protest.
Yesterday, occupiers were worried that they would be evicted from the park this morning so that the park could be cleaned. Throughout the day, they were sweeping and scrubbing the granite slabs that pave the park, picking up trash and recycling cardboard.
As has been widely reported, the occupiers have organized sections of the park to accommodate different activities: meetings, sleeping, arts and culture (dancing and drumming), a kitchen, a library, a distribution depot for donated clothes and bedding.
Occupy Wall Street information desk.
The occupiers’ kitchen.
“Today we clean up our community, tomorrow we clean up Wall Street.”
Since the start of 2010, filmmaker Sam Newman and I have been creating Over 50 and Out of Work, a multimedia documentary project that focuses on unemployment among older Americans. But the problems responsible for record levels of joblessness and hardship for workers who are 50-plus are not confined to a single generation. The American economy has changed. People of all ages are struggling to find jobs. Our government, operating in a polarized political environment, has been unable to help the economy grow and create jobs for Millennials, Generation Xers or boomers.
The constant drumbeat of dismal economic news is depressing. The unemployment rate is stuck above 9 percent. Jobless claims are up. The economy is not adding enough new jobs. The number of weeks that people are unemployed continues to increase. (The average length of time that older Americans are out of work has been climbing since June of 2008 and has been stuck at over one year since last March.) Across the country, foreclosures of homes are up and more people are sliding into poverty.
Recently, we learned about the online “game” Spent that tests your ability to make it through a month on $1,000. You are a parent confronted with real-world choices about where to live, what to buy and how to save money. It’s daunting. Try it. The tough options you encounter in the game are similar to the difficult decisions that many of our project interviewees confront on a daily basis.
The ad agency McKinney created Spent for Urban Ministries of Durham. The nonprofit was looking for new ways to build awareness of the issues surrounding poverty and homelessness. Since last February, the online game has been played over one million times, and now McKinney has issued a challenge to the U.S. Congress through an online petition to play the game.
“We hope that somehow the game can play a role in the conversation about funding for jobs and solving hunger,” said Patrice Nelson, executive director of the nonprofit. She said the game has received an overwhelmingly positive response and that donations to the charity have increased since the game went live.
The Urban Ministries of Durham serves about 6,000 people, and most of them are not homeless. They have lost their jobs. They are trying to hang onto their homes. They have drawn money out of their IRAs, borrowed on their credit cards and exhausted their savings. They have cutback until they can’t reduce their expenses any further, and they have used up their cushions.
On the eve of 9/11, Virginia Montelongo, one of our California interviewees, sent us this inspiring email. When Virginia told us her story last spring, she was searching for a job and living in a homeless shelter. Here’s her update:
When I lost my job, my ex-husband extended his temporary support and offered to let me come live with him. While I was a student Everest College I also searched for a job but with no success, I eventually exhausted my unemployment. When that happened, my ex-husband demanded that I leave. I had nowhere to go, no one to rely upon. He knew this. He knew that I had no family in the area.
Everest College referred me to the C.A.R.E. program, a directory that referred me to shelters in the area. After calling several places, the only shelter that actually picked up the phone and said hello was First Day. They asked me to come in and apply and I did that. When they accepted me in to the program, I knew that my life was about to change and I wanted to embrace that change. My time at First Day proved to be monumental for me and for where I was at in Life.
First Day provided me the tools and resources necessary to get back on my feet. All I had to do was ask for that help. All I had to do was want to be in a better place. While at First Day, I graduated from Everest College and resumed my search for employment. I treated looking for a full time job like a full time job, because it is. With so many people out there unemployed and so little jobs, the odds were against me if I did not utilize the time I had to me, that First Day had graciously giving me by giving me a place to stay.
As I began the search for employment, I went everywhere I could. I went to Worksource and as well used the internet. I applied to dozens of jobs a day. I was called to many interviews.
First Day challenged me to focus on myself whereas in the past I would focus on the needs of others. First Day made me stronger, healthier, more self-reliant and more confident. They taught me not to be afraid to make that first step to look for a job and to improve upon myself. As the Vice-President of the Ladder Group, I learned a lot about what it takes to be a leader.
First Day remains and always will be my family. I feel indebted to them for everything they gave me. I learned never to give up and in the time I had at First Day, I never once gave up. I did not quit. That would not have helped me in the short term or the long term. I owe a great deal of gratitude to Pat Bouchard; he kept me grounded and focused with the immeasurable guidance and advice that he freely, and without complaint, gave me. Everyone from First Day I am thankful for with all the help they gave me, and continue to give me. Their support has always been unwavering.
When I felt disillusioned, they always had a psychologist for me to go to, someone on the outside looking in. With their help, I dealt with hardship easier, however, I know that Life is not easy but it will not always be difficult. I have to keep striving for excellence, to make myself better. The choices in life that I make are born out of a need to be careful for myself and for my family, which, thanks to First Day, I am slowly and surely reconnecting with.
I am now employed, living in my own apartment, working 40 hours a week. I am stable, secure and my course remains forward. This is because I did not lose focus and did not feel discouraged and I did not give up.
Giving up would not have gotten me this far and it won’t get anyone else far. Don’t give up. Believe in yourself. Seek the help you need and utilize what you have at your disposal and you will go far.
The lives of our Over 50 and Out of Work interviewees have intersected with many of the past half century’s seismic events, including the Sixties, Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the decline of U.S. manufacturing, Reaganomics, corporate mergers and restructuring, outsourcing, globalization and 9/11.
A decade ago, two of our 100 interviewees were in Manhattan on their way to work on the morning of Sept. 11 when planes struck the twin towers.
Take a look at these two brief videos on our blog about their experiences:
I was watching the two buildings burn, when they collapsed … Steve Borton, Valley Cottage, N.Y.
Now it’s September 2001, and I’m walking from my home in Greenwich Village towards the World Trade Center, and I see a plane go into the North Tower…Janet Falk, Manhattan
If you are 50-plus and your employment was affected by 9/11, please add your comment to this blog post.
I would first like to say that I am glad someone is bringing light to this issue!
When I saw an article about this in our local paper, I immediately thought of my father who, I feel, is the poster child for this message. Following in the footsteps of his father, he worked over 35 years in Weirton Steel, having been laid off just a small handful of times. Thankfully, when he would get laid off, he would seek outside employment driving truck (which would save him later in life.)
His mill career finally came to an end as I was graduating high school. I can remember him bringing home stacks and stacks of papers with names and stats on them. He frequently told me that the papers listed seniority among workers and he was counting how long he had left to remain employed. Finally, in an attempt not to lose everything, he accepted a “buyout.” It included a relatively small sum of money, temporary unemployment benefits and the ability to go to college and pursue a 2-year degree. He took advantage of all of that.
However, the sum of money and unemployment did not compensate for what he was accustomed to making, so he started driving school bus part time as well (thanks to the CDL he obtained when he was laid off several times). He started attending classes at the local community college the summer that I graduated high school. He chose to pursue a degree in accounting hoping to find work in that field upon graduation. In the fall, I also began attending that community college and 2 years later, we graduated together- both straight-A students! However, the day before graduation, the physical demands of being a full-time college student and part-time bus driver caught up with my father (who was in his 50′s) and he was admitted to the hospital! He missed our big moment.
We found out he had a “weak heart muscle.” He finally had the degree that was supposed to help him support himself and was under doctor’s orders not to work. Thankfully, bus drivers get summers off, so he had a few months to recover and was able to return to his part-time job as a bus driver in the fall.
However, the income from that job was only enough when the unemployment was available, which it no longer was and my dad was prohibited by his doctor from seeking further employment in the accounting field. When he finally was released to work a second job, he realized that although his bus job did not pay very well, it had wonderful benefits and with his heart condition on top of his diabetes and high blood pressure he could not afford to give up the medical benefits that allowed him to get his medications each month. He did try to find an accounting job that would work around his bus schedule, but that was not a fruitful search so my father has struggled for several years now.
He often could not make ends meet, having his phone and other utilities shut off. His parents (who are both older and unemployed themselves) have helped him as much as possible. The past 2 summers he has found work as a mechanic working in bus garages, but it is very physical work and with his condition, I worry daily about how well his health is holding up.
I realize he has no choice because that is how he makes ends meet, but it does not make it any less scary. I came very close to losing my father three years ago and I worry about him every day now. However, having had a prosperous career for most of his life, he is hesitant to accept handouts from others. Also, my father is a very big-hearted man with three daughters. Despite not having enough money to pay his bills, he is often giving or helping any of us with anything we need or want. I know it kills him to be in the position he is in when he started 4 decades ago thinking he would be set for life. I know he had dreams of a house where his grandchildren could come visit and he could spoil them and I know it weighs heavily on his heart that he can’t have that.
Once again, I am so glad someone is bringing to light the heartfelt stories that the mill workers have because each story is heartbreaking and someone needs to do something about this!
Bill Davis, one of our South Carolina interviewees, contributed the column below to the August 2011 issue of Stay Thirsty. Bill, a former IT executive recruiter, now drives a cab in Myrtle Beach, while he researches and writes about a book about the Vietnam War.
* * *
The following account has been exhaustively researched by David “Doc” Snider, Historian for the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion and a 1st Reconnaissance Bn. Corpsman in Vietnam (1969) and by W.F. ‘Bill’ Davis, USMC (1970 – 1977). The names and events are real.
The American Forces in Vietnam faced the combined forces of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), a formal and well-equipped army, and the Viet Cong, sympathizers who lived by the Ho Chi Minh philosophy of farmers and villagers by day – soldiers by night. To the Marines in Vietnam, they were collectively known as “Charlie.”
Saturday morning, March 2, 1968
The fifteen-member team named Texas Pete sat on their packs beside the helicopter Landing Zone at Camp Reasoner. They were in “hurry up and wait” mode, second in line for insertion into the bush. The sun had begun to climb in the sky and warmed the back of their necks. In the distance, the clear sound of returning CH-46 transport helicopters could be heard. Lt. Clebe McClary turned and shouted “the birds are inbound, saddle up!” The CH-46 hovered down to the LZ in a big cloud of red dust and quickly team Texas Pete lumbered on board as other teams with other destinations began to assemble at the LZ. McClary ordered the team to “lock and load.”
Over 50 and Out of Work’s August Stay Thirsty column:
June’s unemployment rate of 9.2 percent reveals that the economy is, at best, stalled. The unemployment rate of 6.8 percent for workers over 50 looks good in comparison to the national average, but it is the highest rate ever recorded in the United States for this age group, which has reached a vulnerable point in its economic lifespan.
A May 2011 report published by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University includes many shocking facts about unemployment today among older Americans. A few stand out:
The unemployment rate for older dislocated workers is twice as high as the rate experienced by all workers when the Great Depression reached rock bottom in the 1930s.
During the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, one out of seven older workers in the private sector lost his or her job.
Since the declared end of the Great Recession, older workers have been re-employed at the lowest rate in the last 30 years.
Given the U.S. budget deficit, the debt ceiling limit and impending future budget cutbacks, jobless boomers cannot expect additional assistance from government in the form of unemployment insurance, social services programs or job training. Worse yet, older workers may now also find their government jobs at risk.
If you watch just a few of the video interviews offered on Over 50 And Out
of Work, you'll quickly hear a common theme - in many cases corporate
employers are not inviting unemployed Americans over age 50 to return to
full-time corporate jobs.
But most of us in our mid-fifties and beyond are nowhere near ready to stop
working - we want to continue to feel useful in our work and we certainly
need the money!
If a 50+ corporate CEO loses his job he can immediately tap a "golden
parachute" of rich financial rewards to help him glide into the next phase
of his life.
But what do we non C-level managers have to drawn upon when we lose our
I'm happy to report that we have what I call a "silver parachute" - the
opportunity to sell our skill and experience in the open marketplace as the
CEOs of our own independent enterprises.
A growing number of Americans over 50 are discovering the entrepreneurial
opportunities in our economy. In fact, for the five years prior to the start
of the Great Recession, Americans over age 55 were the fastest-growing group
of new business owners in the U.S.
We're being attracted by the freedom to act upon our ideas as we see fit,
the chance to achieve much better balance between our work and leisure lives
and the opportunity to enjoy a source of income that's only limited by our
But, as attractive as self-employment may appear at first glance, it's
important that you carefully consider the following seven criteria when
considering whether to take the plunge.
1. Look for a business whose work will truly engage you.
This is especially important if you're feeling burnt out emotionally from
the demands of your corporate career. A good starting point for identifying
the right business idea for you can be to visualize how you can turn your
favorite work activity in your corporate career into a business, or examine
a long-held hobby to see if you can turn it into a full-blown business.
2. Understand the income potential and whether it matches your needs, and how
much you are comfortable investing.
Take a hard-nosed look at startup costs, your local competition, and your
willingness to risk your savings. Take into account the fact that it takes
most new businesses at least three years to break even - if they last that
long. Later in life is not the time to shoot craps and risk your financial
security. It's worth sitting down with a reputable accountant who has worked
with lots of startups and who can help you determine how much of a gamble
you're willing and able to take.
3. Match the physical demands of your chosen business to your energy level.
A business that requires putting in long hours every day, or hard physical
labor, may not suit you at this point in your life. On the other hand, if
you love the outdoors, planning and planting landscaping or working in one
of the building trades, by all means dig further into the possible business
opportunities, but be honest about the sustained physical stamina that will
be demanded to earn a steady income.
4. If day-to-day variety is important to you, rule out businesses that
involve doing the very same thing for each customer.
The idea here is to find something that will keep you passionately
interested. Not every detail of running a business is equally interesting,
but you want to assure that your business offers enough different
experiences so that you remain eager to get up every day and run your
5. Consider: Do you love or hate technology?
While most businesses require some computer use, consider the extent to
which you'll need to use other technologies - like wireless gadgets, the
Internet, and various types of software - to help you manage your business.
If you hate technology and would rather not bother with it, can you afford
to hire technical help?
6. Consider if you're ready to learn a complete new set of skills or
primarily wish to build off of skills you already possess.
Every new business owner has to learn some new skills, such as office
administration or Internet marketing. But, it's very important that you
honestly assess how well you know the "nuts and bolts" of your prospective
business idea, otherwise you face a steep learning curve your first year in
business, at the same time you face the daily demands of selling your
product or service.
7. If you find you're drawn to a franchise opportunity, make sure you
determine the total expected investment for the first two years.
Be aware that, with a franchise, you will always have a business partner -
the franchiser - who takes part of your income. Proceed with caution when
considering a franchise: Talk with others who have bought outlets from the
same company; make sure you understand everything the franchiser will expect
from you (including how disputes, if any, will be resolved); and hire an
attorney who specializes in franchising to explain the franchise agreement
to you in detail.
I know that it can be scary to consider what it takes to turn a good idea
into a great new life as a business owner.
So, I invite you to join me on July 21st for my free teleseminar: "10
Reasons Why Running a Business Is THE Way To Work Now". Share with me what
makes running your own business after age 50 so much fun and so profitable.
Just visit www.bizstarters.com and use the registration box at the top of
the page to let me know that you'll be joining me for this interactive
60-minute learning session.
After 20 years in corporate America, Jeff Williams launched the Go Smart Business Start-Up Center at the age of 39.
At age 50, he founded Bizstarters aimed at helping entrepreneurs, many of whom are 50-plus.
Jeff is also a board member on the Workforce Board of Northern Cook County, Illinois, where he specializes
in the employment issues that older Americans face.
Next week (July 18 to 22), Over 50 will return to Weirton, WV to film the first portion of a feature length documentary. In preparation, we used some footage from our trip last May to create this 10 minute video about Weirton, featuring our interviewees from the mill. Though not intended as part of the final film, it provides an introduction to what’s happening to manufacturing jobs in the US, specifically in Weirton.
We hope you enjoy it and look forward to hearing your feedback on the Comments page.
Jeffrey Koconis of WI, who was laid off after 33 years of service to one company, sent us his email correspondence with the bank that holds his mortgage.
Earlier this year, Jeffrey tried to refinance his mortgage and lower his payments to make them more affordable, but his request was denied. He is now depleting his IRA to keep his mortgage current and pay his living expenses.
Jeffrey is extremely frustrated by his bank’s lack of responsiveness and compassion.
Take a look:
Iam submitting this email thread to illustrate an example of what is really happening
to us in our 50′s who have been unceremoniously thrown on the trash heap by
corporate America and our Government. I don’t expect anything to change, my
experience is one of many, but while we may be an aging part of the population,
our voice needs to be heard.
From: Jeffrey Koconis
Sent: Thursday, March 31, 2011 2:10 PM
To: Flynn, Philip
Subject: Customer Concern
Mr. Flynn, my name is Jeffrey Koconis, and I have been an Associated Bank
customer for about 15 years. I have my checking account, mortgage, IRA, credit
card, and until recently, money market with your company. I, like many
Americans, lost my job in 2009 after working 33 loyal years for a national
corporation, who determined I was expendable in their cost saving restructuring.
I have worked my whole life, paid taxes, raised a family and never took a dime
from anyone. My income was slashed dramatically, and now I must survive on
a pension of $1,880 per month. I have been able to make all my payments with
help from my savings which will be running out in the next few months. Of course
my life style is now watching every penny. I believed I could find work to help
me make my payments until I qualify for social security benefits at age 62, which is
about 2.5 years from now, when I would be able to afford all my bills. I can’t get
companies to even respond, unless it’s an automated rejection response to my applications,
let alone be invited to an interview. Age discrimination is alive and well.
The reason I’m explaining this to you is I applied for a refinance deal your company
offered which would have significantly reduced my mortgage payment, but of course
I was denied as my debt to income ratio was too high. The incompetent manager of the
branch I worked with didn’t even know of any other program that I could pursue, I had
to explain to her about federal programs available. You might want to check on your training
in the field.
I was then approached regarding a possible modification of my loan through Fannie Mae,
who holds the mortgage. Well, to no surprise by me, I didn’t qualify for that either. The
only advice I get is to try and sell my home. That certainly is not what I prefer to do, and
cannot fathom how the system would rather I lose money by selling at a loss instead of
helping me avoid that, or more likely foreclosure. Why wouldn’t I just foreclose then as I
really don’t care about my credit score at that point, I can’t qualify for any kind of loan now
with an outstanding credit score.
I understand other banks actually do care about their customers and are trying to help them get
through these very real, and tough economic times. Instead of turning their backs on customers
like me they are indeed helping through individual modifications to avoid foreclosures. I simply
cannot understand why your position is to just wash your hands of this, we are real people, not
numbers. If you and your company would look beyond your ‘standard operating procedures’ for once,
and recognize what you are doing to people like me is not only just plain wrong, but unpatriotic as well.
I know you could help me if you really wanted to, at much less risk than what you are now accepting.
I say again, I have no motivation whatsoever to sell my home at a loss, and will likely let it go into
foreclosure. If you can live with that, good for you, you probably never had to worry about losing your
home or stop doing anything but paying for necessities.
I hope you take my message seriously, I haven’t even spoke about not being able to afford medical
insurance or going to the doctor, when’s the last time you didn’t go to the doctor when you should
have because you couldn’t justify the expense? I realize I’m likely speaking to deaf ears but needed
you to know what’s going on in the real world of us people who don’t have it so good right now, and nobody
really gives a damn.
Regards, Jeffrey Koconis
On Mar 31, 2011, at 4:04 PM, Flynn, Philip wrote:
I will look into your situation when I return to my office tomorrow. I am personally sorry for the situation you are in and will see if the Bank can help. I would add that I will ignore the personal insults you included in your message.
From: Jeffrey Koconis
Sent: Thursday, March 31, 2011 5:30 PM
To: Flynn, Philip
Subject: Re: Customer Concern
I apologize of course, please know I am a very frustrated man right now. I really
did not expect a response to be frank. Thank you at least for listening.
No problem. I am having our mortgage people research your situation and we will be back to you early next week.
Philip B. Flynn
President & Chief Executive Officer
1200 Hansen Road – MS 8000
Green Bay, WI 54304
From: Jeffrey Koconis
Date: April 1, 2011 4:29:04 PM CDT
To: “Flynn, Philip”
Subject: Re: Customer Concern
Thank you, it’s appreciated.
It’s no help but I’m sorry we don’t have any options to help your situation.
Over 50 and Out of Work documents the devastating impact of the Great Recession on 100 older Americans, and a May 2011 report issued by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University sets their individual experiences in a broader and more ominous national context.
The report, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, catalogs the shocking impact of the “Great Dislocation of 2007-09” on older workers and the economic consequences for the country. The full report “The Job Dislocation and Re-employment Experiences of America’s Older Workers During the Great Recessionary Period of 2007-2009” can be read by clicking here.
“I feel like we’ve become a throwaway generation,” said one unemployed older worker we met during the course of our interviews, and the center’s report offers support for her apprehension.
Twelve of the report’s key points about the three-year Great Recession:
• 2.685 million older workers (55 and older) were permanently dislocated from their jobs.
• The dislocation rate for older workers was 9.3 percent, the highest rate ever recorded for this age group.
• One out of every seven older worker in the private for-profit sector lost his or her job.
• One out of every nine older men with up to the Associate’s degree level was dislocated.
• Close to one out of every five older workers holding a blue-collar job were permanently laid off.
• In January 2010, nearly 75 percent of all older workers were working or actively looking for work. Almost 50 percent of them were unemployed.
• In January 2010, only 37 percent of older, dislocated workers had found new jobs. This rate is the lowest re-employment rate for older workers ever recorded.
• The unemployment rate for older workers (which is broken down by age groups in the report) is twice as high as those experienced by older workers during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
• In January 2010, 65 percent of older workers were unemployed, underemployed or mal-employed (not able to fully utilize their skills and education in their new jobs).
• In January 2010, all re-employed dislocated older workers earned, on average, $105 or 13 percent less per week than they had been paid previously.
• The overall aggregate loss in earnings among older dislocated workers was $73.5 billion or $27,364 per dislocated worker.
• The estimated annual fiscal loss to the United States (from cash and in-kind transfers paid to dislocated workers plus the lost annual federal and state tax receipts) is $38.07 billion or $20,376 per dislocated worker.
For the past 16 months, filmmaker Sam Newman and I have traveled across the country using video to chronicle the stories of unemployed older Americans. As the project progressed, our mission expanded. We wanted our 100 Stories to improve the cultural perceptions of older workers and influence public policy to make it easier for them to find re-employment.
Our project dispels the myth that jobless older workers would prefer to receive unemployment benefits rather than work. Our interviewees, who were not pre-screened or scripted, are determined to return to the labor force. Their aim is to regain their financial security and to become contributing members of the economy once again. Their life stories, focused on their current unemployed status, are eloquent and moving.
Our project participants have adapted to changing labor market conditions by learning new job-hunting techniques, networking and volunteering (both to do good and to build connections), upgrading their skills and enhancing their education. Even so, given the sluggish state of the economy, the outcome of their lengthy job searches has not been rosy.
Only seven of our interviewees have been able to return to full-time positions at salaries comparable to what they earned previously. Most are severely underemployed and about one-third remain jobless. These job search results mirror the findings of an ongoing national unemployment survey that is being conducted by the center for workforce development at Rutgers University.
As we approached our goal of documenting 100 stories, we reached out to elected officials about Over 50 and Out of Work and the issues it has revealed, including the erosion of job security, financial hardship, strained marriages and family relationships, foreclosure, lack of health insurance, dependence on children or on parents to help defray mortgage and living expenses, and the inability to pay for children’s college education.
We tried to email all 50 governors, 100 senators and 435 members of Congress. This effort turned out to be a disheartening endeavor.
Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse asked what people do when their unemployment benefits run out. In particular, he inquired about one of our R.I. interviewees, George Dys. We responded that George is now scraping by on part-time jobs and continuing to deplete his dwindling savings. George’s underemployed status is common, both for our interviewees and nationwide.
In May, the national unemployment rate was 9.1 percent, but the underemployment rate was 15.8 percent. Of course, underemployment is tricky to measure, so the actual rate may be much higher.
At the present time, about 40 of our 100 interviewees are severely underemployed. Their unemployment benefits have expired, and they are now cobbling together a living from one or more part-time jobs. They continue to deplete any remaining savings they may have, including tapping into retirement funds; they sell their assets such as cars, furniture or collectibles, and they rely on family and friends to help them out when they are in dire need. Several of our interviewees have also been forced to use food banks for the first time in their lives.
Recently, the New York Times addressed the topic of underemployment in Job Jugglers, on the Tightrope, but the story featured only younger workers, four 20-somethings. Underemployment is even more challenging and frightening for older workers because they usually have higher living expenses, including mortgage payments, and families to support as well.
Elizabeth Zima, 57, of Calistoga, Calif., a former writer and editor on healthcare issues, now works part-time at three wineries. She earns 50 percent of her former salary, no longer has health insurance, owes outstanding medical bills and cannot afford to pay her taxes.
Before the Great Recession, Bill Davis, 59, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., earned a six-figure income as an executive recruiter in the IT industry. Now, he drives a cab at night. Demand for taxi service during the tourist season in Myrtle Beach allows him to make a meager living, but once the weather cools, his customers depart. Fortunately, he is a veteran, so he has access to medical care, but he cannot afford to pay for his son to go to college.
Joel Nitzberg, 57, of Somerville, Mass., lost his job when the community education department he headed was eliminated to slash costs at a local college. Joel found full-time work as a consultant, but his position does not offer benefits and ends on July 30. When he and his wife were both out of work last summer, they experienced the terrifying feeling of living without the safety net of health insurance. Happily, his wife was able to find a new full-time job in her field that provides health care coverage for the couple once again.
The Times story emphasized the new skills that the younger workers are gaining in their part-time jobs — multitasking, hyper-organization and enhanced knowledge of technology.
For our older interviewees, the underemployment they are enduring does not seem to be building their knowledge or skills. Their part-time jobs do not help them regain their financial footing or build up their savings and financial security for their later years.
They struggle on, because as they say, what else can we do?
Two years ago, Michael Grottola, 67 of Upper Saddle River, N.J., lost his job as a senior executive in charge of technology at global auditing company during a mass layoff of top management as a result of the Great Recession. Initially devastated and depressed, Mike slowly regained his characteristic energy and enthusiasm. He reflected on his lifetime of experience and decided to become an independent consultant, helping new business founders gain access to capital. Through his own new consulting business, Mike has now become a partial owner of a startup energy conservation company.
“I took the skills and talents I’ve been blessed with, I’ve matched them to up to market need, and I’ve been able to see a way forward, and go for it,” Mike said. He views his age, experience and gray hairs as valuable assets in his burgeoning entrepreneurial activities. “I’m having a blast,” he said.
Over 50 and Out of Work has just testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Our testimony consisted of a minute of introduction, followed by a three and a half minute video clip (below), and a few minutes of discussion. We also submitted longer, written testimony, which is linked to at the end of this post.
Here’s the video we showed:
And here’s what we said:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member and members of the committee for giving us the opportunity to talk about Over 50 and Out of Work at this morning’s hearing.”
“For the past 16 months, filmmaker Sam Newman and I have traveled across the country using video to chronicle the stories of unemployed older Americans, almost all of them middle class. We have conducted 100 interviews with individuals who are currently jobless, including steelworkers, bankers, IT project managers, autoworkers, carpenters, engineers, fishermen and office workers. Their three- to seven-minute videos can be seen on our website, but for today’s hearing, we prepared a short video that includes 21 of our interviewees and highlights many of the issues revealed by our multimedia documentary project.”
“Let’s take a look at the video now” (http://vimeo.com/25488585).
“Before I continue my oral testimony, which is an abbreviated version of our submitted written testimony, I want to clarify that our interviewees were not pre-screened or pre-selected. Their powerful and moving eloquence about their own life and experiences is unrehearsed and unscripted.”
“We focused the video you just watched on many of the issues that have emerged out of our multimedia documentary project: job loss and the erosion of job security, financial hardship, strained marriages and family relationships, foreclosure, lack of health insurance, dependence on children or on one’s parents to help defray mortgage and living expenses and the inability to pay for children’s college education.”
“The job search results of our 100 interviewees mirrors the results of an ongoing national unemployment survey that is being conducted by the center for workforce development at Rutgers University. Only seven out of our 100 interviewees have found full-time jobs at salaries comparable to what they earned previously. Most of our interviewees are severely underemployed, struggling to make ends meet, and approximately one-third are still without any job at all.”
“Overall, our project dispels the myth that unemployed older workers are not trying to find jobs and prefer to rely on unemployment insurance to survive. They prove to be persistent and resilient, but thwarted by the current dearth of available jobs.”
“But the most powerful theme that emerges from our documentary project is the shock that older middle class Americans experience when they realize that they are no longer “set for life.” The collapse of the housing and financial markets often eroded the value of their homes and savings even before they faced the pain and dislocation of losing their jobs.”
“Now, they are struggling to get back to work, trying to reinvent themselves and compete for jobs in a depressed labor market while facing the double hurdles of age discrimination and a bias against the long-term unemployed. They are recalibrating their expectations downward, both for their own futures and for the futures of their children and grandchildren.”
“They are fearful that they will not be able to hang onto their middle class status, despite their desire and determination to return to work, and afraid that the American dream, which they worked hard to achieve, is slipping away both for themselves and for their families.”
The hearing was covered by ABC and will be available online at the HELP Committee website. We hope to have video of our testimony on our site soon.
In addition to the oral testimony, we submitted a much longer written document detailing the themes and conclusions that we have uncovered over the course of this project. Below is a short summary of the written document, which can be read (or downloaded) in it’s entirety here:
And here is a short summary of the written testimony:
Since February of 2010, filmmaker Samuel D. Newman and I have been traveling across the country using video to chronicle the stories of older unemployed Americans, almost all of them middle class. We conducted 100 interviews with individuals who are currently jobless, covering as broad an array of professions and occupations as possible, and we concentrated our interviews in states with the highest rates of unemployment.
Out of these video interviews, we created Over 50 and Out of Work (www.overfiftyandoutofwork.com), a multimedia documentary project. For today’s committee hearing, we prepared a short video testimonial that includes 21 of our interviewees and highlights many of the issues revealed by our project.
The most powerful theme that emerges from our project is the shock and pain that older middle class Americans experience when they realize that they are no longer “set for life.”
They are frightened and often overwhelmed by the financial setbacks and consequences they encounter as a result of job loss. Decades of structural changes in the U.S. economy, accelerated by the Great Recession, have resulted in the highest rate of unemployment among older middle class workers ever recorded.
The consequences as told by our interviewees include: the erosion of job security, discouragement in the job search process, financial hardship, strained marriages and family relationships, foreclosure, lack of health insurance, dependence on children or on parents to help defray mortgage and living expenses, and the inability to pay for children’s college education.
Economic data alone cannot convey the multigenerational pain that unemployment and its repercussions have created among older middle class Americans. Some will never recover. Many of our interviewees talk about hunkering down and getting by, rather than about anticipating better times ahead. The traditional American expectation of a better future for themselves and their families has been upended, if not reversed.
Surprisingly, despite the ongoing hardships that they encounter as a result of unemployment, our interviewees speak eloquently about their belief that we can solve the economic problems of the United States and restore the American dream for the middle class.
will be held at 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 23, 2011.
The hearing will be webcast live from the committee’s website.
We are delighted that we will be able to show a short video testimony that contains clips from many of our interviews, speak briefly about the issues surrounding unemployment among older middle class Americans that our multimedia documentary project has revealed and submit a longer, written testimony to the committee members that will expand on our oral testimony.
Since the declared end of the Great Recession almost two years ago, the outlook for unemployed boomers in the United States has continued to evolve and become more complicated, but it has not brightened.
On the positive side of the picture, the unemployment rate for older workers is 6.3 percent, which compares favorably to the national average of 9.0 percent. More ominously, the length of time that older workers are jobless has been climbing since 2008 and now exceeds 12 months, three months longer than the average time for all unemployed workers.
Moreover, although the number of Americans who are 50-plus and jobless remains around three million, this figure does not take into account: workers who have dropped out of the labor market due to discouragement; individuals forced to claim disability payments or Social Security at the earliest possible date because they cannot find jobs to support themselves; and, lastly, the growing numbers of boomers who are seriously underemployed.
For the past 15 months, Over 50 and Out of Work has been using video to chronicle the stories of older unemployed Americans, and we have now reached our goal of documenting 100 Stories. We have traveled to 16 states, focusing on the states suffering from the highest unemployment rates and interviewed people who have worked in all major industry groups in a diverse array of occupations.
We continue to stay in touch with our interviewees and track the progress of their job searches. Here is a brief summary of their outcomes to date:
Over the past few weeks, as we’ve neared our goal of documenting 100 Stories for Over 50 and Out of Work, we’ve tried to email every U.S. governor, senator and representative about the project and invited their responses.
Have you ever tried to email a governor or member of Congress? Very few accept direct emails any longer. Most require you to fill out forms on their websites, so trying to contact them becomes a tedious and time-consuming process of filling in the non-standardized forms. But we sent info about and the link to Over 50 and Out of Work to as many as we could.
Amazingly, many websites screen by your zip code, even for senators, who are supposed to take a national perspective. If your zip code does not match their states’ or districts’, you are often not able to submit the form. We were not able to contact many governors or members of Congress due to our N.J. zip code.
FYI — Here was the response from our government:
One exploratory phone call from a staff member in the office of Lincoln Chafee, governor of Rhode Island
One form letter from Daniel Inouye, senator from Hawaii
Today, we are conducting our 100th Over 50 and Out of Work interview in Louisville, Kentucky! By the end of the day, we will have reached our goal of documenting 100 Stories of Americans who are 50+ and jobless.
We traveled to Kentucky for our last trip because the statewide unemployment rate here is 10.2 percent, fifth highest in the country.
We are very grateful to Bob Tiell, director of career services and workforce development at the Jewish Family and Career Services in Louisville. The nonprofit organization serves all individuals, regardless of faith. Bob helped us connect with local interviewees. Thank you, Bob!
Bob Tiell, director of career services and workforce development, Jewish Family and Career Services in Louisville, Ky.
What’s next for Over 50 and Out of Work?
Very shortly, we will be relaunching our website with more content and information about unemployment among older Americans, and we are now starting to work on a documentary that will explore the issues revealed by our 100 Stories in greater depth. Stay tuned!
Olive Lynch, 52, has an eclectic work history — she trained and performed as an opera singer before becoming a business and data analyst for large corporations. When she was laid off for nine months in 2008, she explored the idea of founding her own company and researched new composting technologies. In her video, she describes the plans for her startup, as well as the innovative technology that she plans to use to recycle food wastes that will convert them into biofuel and protein meal.
“I like to analyze, always have, but there’s a side of me that is creative. Like, if I’m faced with a problem, I don’t have to solve it the way everyone else does. I’ll look and say, ‘Well, let’s do it a different way.’”
Next Monday, we will be adding a new video about Olive Lynch of Plainfield, N.J. and her startup company to our older entrepreneur series.
By the way, it’s a coincidence that all our new business founders profiled online to date are women. Men, who are 50+ and have founded a company, please contact us and volunteer to be part of our multimedia documentary project!
The chart below, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows that the average number of weeks that all workers are unemployed continues to climb, despite the declared end of the Great Recession in June 2009.
For all workers over 16 years of age, the average length of time out of work has risen to 41.4 weeks.
For workers who are 55-plus, the average number of weeks out of work now exceeds a year at 53.7 weeks.
A happy outcome for Rudy Limas, one of our Oregon interviewees, as a result of his participation in Over 50 and Out of Work!
Here’s how Rudy found a new job:
Both The Oregonian and KATU Channel 2 featured Over 50 and Out of Work in news stories after our recent interviewing trip in the Portland area.
Kerry Tomlinson, KATU reporter, asked us to refer one of our interviewees to her. Once we checked with Rudy LImas, we put her in touch with him. Rudy began working at a young age as a migrant farmworker, but eventually became a commercial truckdriver. Most recently, he delivered manufactured homes. He was laid off in 2009, when home sales plummeted as a consequence of the Great Recession.
Unable to find work since that time, Rudy, who supports two of grandchildren, was growing increasingly concerned that he would lose his home and that he and his family would end up homeless.
KATU profiled Rudy LImas in its TV series about unemployment. Following the TV coverage, four employers interested in hiring Rudy contacted KATU.
This afternoon, I stopped by the NYC Startup Job Fair, jointly organized by the Columbia Venture Community and the NYU Venture Community, held at 770 Broadway. I went to recruit interviewees for our blog series on older entrepreneurs. Almost all of the new venture founders and the jobseekers at the job fair were too young to be eligible for our multimedia project, although I did find a couple of candidates.
Forty-three new businesses attended, and 1,000 jobseekers signed up in advance to attend the job fair. Organizers had to limit registration at that number. No walk ins were admitted.
Although our project focuses on the struggles that older Americans face when finding work, the fair was a glimpse into the difficult job market that younger Americans confront as well.
For the past year, we have traveled around the country conducting interviews for Over Fifty and Out of Work, a multimedia project that documents the impact of the Great Recession on Boomers.
We use video interviews to illuminate the real lives hidden behind the dismayingly bleak economic story: Older Americans are unemployed at higher rates than they have ever been previously, and they are out of work longer than any other age group. They have also often seen the seen the value of their homes and savings collapse as a result of the housing and financial bubbles. Lastly, when they look for new jobs, they confront the daunting double hurdles of age discrimination and a bias against hiring the unemployed.
Our interviewees are “real people with real stories,” as one of the steelworkers we interviewed in West Virginia said. Recently, we had a reminder how real our interviewees’ lives are and that their life stories do not end when the interview does.
Lorraine Campman, 56, founder of Music Oasis Lifelong Learning Center, teaches group piano to adults at community center located in Providence Township, Penn. Uninspired by office jobs, Lorraine, an independent piano teacher since 1977, attended entrepreneurial training classes offered by WORC (Women’s Opportunities Resource Center) in Philadelphia in 2007. Shortly after she began teaching her first adult music classes, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which derailed her new business plans for two years. Fortunately, in 2010, she was able to begin implementing her five-year new business plan that had been put on hold during her treatment and recovery. She gave this advice to prospective entrepreneurs:
Don’t let the music die inside of you. If you have a dream, find a way of fulfilling that dream, and there are going to be rough spots in the road along the way, but you have to persevere, accept the help that’s available out there and do what you can to make it happen.
Lorraine added these thoughts about her entrepreneurial transformation:
I’ve been an independent piano teacher since 1977. Many people have the false assumption that when you are self-employed, you can make your own hours, but actually you have to work when your customers/students are available. For me this meant my income producing hours were limited to after school and evenings.
I had been reading in my professional journals about the concept of Recreational Music Making for adults, and saw it as an opportunity to do something new on a ground-breaking level. Through some networking I learned of an opportunity to purchase a used piano lab. I took an entrepreneurial training class called Start Smart from Women’s Opportunity Resource Center (WORC) in Philadelphia.
WORC helped me evaluate my idea, develop a business plan and launch my new micro-enterprise, Music Oasis Life Long Learning Center, group piano for active retired adults. WORC supports the development of micro-enterprises, in which a business grows in small increments without incurring too much debt up front.
For me that meant starting by teaching through my township’s Park and Recreation Department, then taking my course “on the road” to senior centers and retirement communities, installing my digital pianos as needed. My eventual goal is to develop enough of a following that I am able to open a music school in retail space and have a fully functioning piano lab where students each sit at their own instrument and use headphones for privacy.
Gallup reported an unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) of 10.2 percent in mid-March, which is virtually unchanged from the unemployment rate of 10.3 percent it found at the end of February 2011. Worse yet, Gallup’s polling shows that the unemployment rate has been creeping up in 2011 and has returned to the 10-plus percent level Gallup found a year ago.
The underemployment rate has also increased and climbed back to the level it was a year ago, Gallup reported. Underemployment in mid-March 2011 was 19.9 percent, trending upward since the start of the year, as shown in the chart below, and has climbed back to the levels it reached in early 2010.
These findings, rather than the BLS unemployment and underemployment rates, are more consistent with the lackluster or non-existent job market that our interviewees that our interviewees describe. They say — the government keeps saying that things are getting better, but I don’t see it.
Chuck Castagnolo, founder of Bridges to Jobs, a volunteer organization, describes the path his life has taken since 2007 when he lost his job in the banking industry:
In September 2007 I found myself “Over 50 and out of Work.” Having been in the management end of the savings and loan/banking business my entire career, I was not sure what to do. The last ten years or so I had been doing real estate loans, and with 20/20 hindsight that was the beginning of the mortgage meltdown that would take our country into this Great Recession. But that was not clear back then.
With that, I started looking for a new job. I got up early in the morning to follow what I had learned and had done in the past when looking for a job. I updated my resume, posted it on the major job boards, and sat back and waited for the phone to ring, which it didn’t. What was happening this time around, however, was a slow paradigm shift in the job market and how to find a job.
The employment rate was rising, more and more people were losing their jobs, and employers were starting to become inundated with resumes they didn’t want and just didn’t have time to read. It started to seem to me the “delete” button on their keyboards was becoming their best friend.
I started attending the local unemployment office professional job search group meetings and was meeting many more people like myself who were running into the same situation – no response to their resumes. Something traumatic was in the works. Our country was changing, and as a result of the Great Recession, a lot of the jobs we formally held were no longer viable positions. Companies were learning to do more with less.
I did all the things I was told needed to be done to get a job. I shortened up my resume from six pages to two and learned how to answer those pesky interview questions; still nothing. That is when it hit me. I would probably never work again; I was too young to lose everything I had spent a career building. What do I do now? Well, I went out to the car and starting screaming. Good thing it was a cold November day and the windows were closed. Had I done that with the windows open I’m sure someone would have called an ambulance and I would have been taken away wearing one of those white jackets with long straps and nice shiny buckles.
It was then I got the idea to start Bridges to Jobs; I got to thinking no one was doing anything to psychologically prepare us for what was to come in what would be a very long job search. What about the grief of losing your job. How do I stand, sit and shake hands properly. What does my internet presence look like and what will employers look for there? What will they find if they do a background check? Who should I use for a reference? And a behavioral interview was what?
So I decided to take my second love of teaching and training and develop a series of seminars to help job seekers through this difficult time and hopefully give them a heads up on their competition by knowing what to do, say and how to act in an interview. That led me to reinvent myself as a trainer, which in turn led me to a job with a local career college helping others who are looking to advance themselves in this tight job market.
So I feel the gist of this writing is to encourage you not give up on yourself. Find a way to think out-of-the-box when it comes to looking for a job. Ask yourself how you can take your experience and skills and apply them in a new direction as that is where you new job will be. Our country has grown and prospered by people finding new ways to do things differently and better. You can be one of those too!
In 2008, Deborah Ramsey, 56, opened Natural Wellness and Spa in Philadelphia, Penn. The spa offers services and products to women and seniors. Deborah was inspired to found her own business after she had suffered through a couple of corporate layoffs. She relied on WORC (Women’s Opportunities Resource Center) to help her become a new business founder.
Deborah emailed these added thoughts about her transformation from an employee to a entrepreneur:
Had I known how great the rewards were that awaited me I would have started my own business a long time ago. Has it been a struggle…? YES INDEED! But so is life. Fear and apprehension held me back until I decided to be in charge of me! I banished fear, apprehension and every other negative thought and emotion to a remote island. When they try to revisit I don’t open that door because I’ve learned to put courage and confident where those negative things were. I believe more firmly now that we were created to eat and live from the work of our own hands.
In his essay, Michael calls this period in American history “The Downturn.” He writes that that globalization has united the residents of world financial centers, such as New York, London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai, but distanced them from everyone else. He believes that the statistical models and data used by the U.S. government to track economic activity are outdated and no longer reflect the reality of the working world for many people, who are working, but at rates of pay that are less than half of what they had previously earned. He asks: Where will new full-time jobs come from for both older and younger workers?
Fundamentally, he is fearful that The Downturn has either created or accelerated a death of human solidarity, which he defines as the willingness of one person to risk his or her personal security to help another. Workers under 25 and over 50 can’t find employment. “Yet,” Michael summed up, “stock markets and bonuses continue to rise. GDP is expanding. The Recession is over…but The Downturn isn’t.”
Take a look at his essay, and let us know what you think about The Downturn and the death of human solidarity.
Today, we’re adding three more video interviews to our 100 Stories. Our online total is now 72!
Valentin Figueroa, María Isabel ___ and María ___ (we’ve omitted their last names to protect their identities) are agricultural fieldworkers, all 50-plus, originally from Mexico and currently out of work. We conducted their interview in Lamont, Calif., and Érica __, the 24-year-old daughter of María, helped translate for us during the interview. When they find work, they pick grapes, tangerines, blueberries and nectarines, and package carrots, green beans, asparagus, potatoes and turnips. It is hard physical labor, and younger workers are hired before older workers. Recently they have been paid under a contract based on the amount of work they do. Under a contract, fieldworkers earn between 30 and 40 dollars daily. In contrast, when they are paid by the hour, they can earn about 70 dollars each day. Of the three, only Valentin receives unemployment payments because he is an American citizen. The three continue to survive in the United States because family members chip in to help pay for rent, food and medical care.
Mike Boyd, 57, a native Californian, decided to switch careers when a larger, out-of-state bank purchased the local bank where he worked. He returned to college to become a teacher, but his plan has been thwarted by California’s budget crisis. The state has laid off thousands of teachers, and Mike has been unable to find a full-time position in either a public or private school. Increasingly frustrated by the anonymous online job search process, Mike has only been able to work occasionally either as a substitute teacher or in temporary positions.
Sheila Cooper, 53, is also a native Californian. She is married with two sons, 23 and 19, who both have special needs. Sheila and her husband worked at northern California’s largest dental laboratory, where he was a manager and she was a technician. As a consequence of the Great Recession, people began to defer dental treatments, and the lab’s business suffered. Sheila’s husband lost his job in 2007 and remained out of work for 16 months, until he was finally rehired as a driver at a much lower hourly wage. Sheila was laid off last June. Their home is in foreclosure, and they are currently negotiating, hoping to be able to remain in it. They are scraping by with the help of family members. Sheila is seeking a clerical job and upgrading her computer skills, but California’s high rate of unemployment makes finding work daunting.
Today, we’re adding three more interviews from California, as well as a new expert interview to Over 50 and Out of Work:
Kathryn Balles, 57, of Newport Beach, Calif., grew up in Guttenberg, N.J. Unwilling to follow her girlfriends into traditional occupations such as nursing or teaching, Kathryn went to college and embarked on an exciting and financially rewarding path in the financial services industry. Her career seemed to reach its pinnacle when she was hired to work for Lehman Bros. in California.
“If anybody knows about Lehman Bros., the rest is a disaster, and here I am, out of work,” Kathryn said.
Virginia Montelongo, 55, lives in a homeless shelter in Whittier, Calif., while she hunts for a job. Originally from East Los Angeles, she had a daughter and dropped out of high school before she graduated. She was, however, able to become a union ironworker in her twenties, earning good pay with benefits until the company closed. Around the same time she married, but became divorced 17 years later.
On her own again, she supported herself with a series of odd jobs until she entered a medical billing and coding program at Everest College, a private, for-profit institution. Although she completed the program in 2010, she now owes the school $8,000 and has been unable to find work in California where the statewide unemployment rate is 12.5 percent. She is determined to find a job and reunite her family.
Darlene Palacios, 54, of Bellflower, Calif., joined the Air Force after she graduated from high school and served during the Vietnam War. Following the four years she spent in the military, she earned a college degree and began her lifelong career as an administrative assistant and bookkeeper.
She lost her last job at a plumbing company when its business declined as a result of the Great Recession. Her unemployment benefits have expired, and she is living on her dwindling savings without medical insurance while she searches for a new position. Despite the jobhunting obstacles she encounters, her volunteer work allows her to keep a positive and hopeful outlook.
David Bank and Marci Alboher are both vice presidents at Civic Ventures, a nonprofit think tank on boomers, work and social purpose that was founded in 1998. Civic Ventures, based in San Francisco, publishes a site Encore.org for people seeking encore careers — jobs that combine purpose, passion and a paycheck.
In their video, David explains the nonprofit’s mission and how it has evolved as a result of the Great Recession. Marci offers practical advice on networking and volunteering for jobseekers. Please add your comments to our site.
Last month when we were in California, we interviewed Marci Alboher, vice president at Civic Ventures/author/journalist/lawyer. Civic Ventures is a nonprofit think tank on boomers, work and social purpose. Civic Ventures publishes a site Encore.org for people seeking encore careers — jobs that combine purpose, passion and a paycheck.
Marci said that the most common question she is asked is about age discrimination. Take a look at her answer in the short clip below:
Today, we are adding our third video to our Older Entrepreneur blog series as well as three more video interviews from California.
We now have 66 interviews online with Americans who are Over 50 and Out of Work. We’re nearing our goal of 100!
Elsie Bowen, 55, founded Precious Jewels Day Care eight years ago in Philadelphia, Penn. with the assistance of WORC (Women’s Opportunities Resource Center) and the preparatory course in childcare development that she took at a nearby YMCA. Although she has struggled through financial difficulties as a small business owner, Elsie would do it all over again.
“It feels good to be your own boss,” said Elsie, a registered nurse.
Mercedes Paez, 69 of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., was born in Managua, Nicaragua. She immigrated to the United States at the age of 19 and began working in the garment industry in 1959. She lost her most recent job in August 2008 due to the Great Recession and outsourcing. Now, she is struggling to pay her rent and expenses, as prices rise, on her fixed Social Security and unemployment benefit payments. She is determined to return to work, but finding it difficult, given the large number of applicants for any job she seeks in California, where the statewide unemployment rate, one of the highest in the country, is 12.5 percent.
Lorraine Contreras, 60, is a native Californian who now lives in Pico Rivera. She worked as a bookkeeper for 23 years, but lost her job in 2007 when her employer was acquired by a larger company. Since then she has supported herself in an assortment of odd jobs – caregiving, cleaning, babysitting. “Whatever it takes,” Lorraine said. She owns and lives in a mobile home, but has been forced to take in a roommate to make ends meet. Although Lorraine has an associate degree, she has been dismayed to learn that employers are now requiring applicants for bookkeeping positions to have a bachelor’s degree and be skilled in accounting software that she does not know. She is taking adult classes to update her skills. A born-again Christian, Lorraine maintains an optimistic attitude toward the obstacles she is encountering in her job search.
Ramiro Flores, 76 of Whittier, Calif., had a 40-year career in sales for the graphic arts and printing industry. In early 2010, at his last position, he agreed to take a 50 percent pay cut when the printing company where he worked experienced declining orders due to the Great Recession. Despite his sacrifice, he lost his job in April 2010. Although he collects Social Security and is on Medicare, Ramiro wants to return to work and searches for a job daily. Working makes him feel vital and alive.
More on Over 50 and Out of Work:
• We will be heading to South Carolina and Louisiana at the end of the month to conduct more interviews.
• Please contribute your own Over 50 and Out of Work written story to our site through Comments or use our how-to blog post and send us your own video story.
At the end of the month, we’ll be heading down to South Carolina and Louisiana to conduct interviews. So far, we’ve been to New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Nevada, Michigan and California and Washington, DC. In a few weeks, we’ll make our last trip, which will be to Oregon.
If we’ve missed you or won’t be able to get to your state before we reach our goal of 100 interviews, please send your Over 50 and Out of Work story to us through Comments or send us a video, using our how-to blog post.
I have a small business and work mostly for residential customers (about 99 percent of my business). I have developed a simple little strategy to collect the money for the work I do. It has worked well for me for many, many years and the strategy is a positive one I think. Some of you who are starting your own business may want to adopt a similar system.
1. Try to collect the money when the work is performed unless an agreement has been reached in advance to pay later. If a customer cannot pay at that time (or is not home), then leave a bill and self-addressed envelope for the payment.
2. If you have not received the payment in two weeks, then you can either send another invoice plus a self-addressed STAMPED envelope or you can call the customer and ask if they got the first bill and envelope (I sometimes leave it on the door or someone else is home and takes these items and sometimes the customer does not get them).
3. If after three weeks you do not get the payment, then call the customer and ask them if they could put a check in the mail. I purposely call when I think I can just leave a voicemail. I am not trying to confront the customer about this. Only remind them that a check would be appreciated.
4. If you have not gotten the check in four weeks, then call the customer and tell them that you are going to be in their neighborhood for another job/estimate on a job and you would appreciate it if they would leave a check in an envelope on the door. And, if that is not possible, please call you back.
95 percent of the time I get the money in less than a month. Most checks arrive in less than two weeks. For folks still working, they usually get paid every couple of weeks so two weeks is not uncommon for the time period of receiving a check.
IF you don’t get your money via the “check on the door method”, make another visit. I make a visit on Sunday to the customer’s house with my wife. Just happened to be in the neighborhood and I asked my wife if she would swing by.
If a customer is one who usually pays promptly, then I do not always go through the steps above. But if a customer pays late more than a couple of times, then every time after that I require payment when the work is performed.
Hope that helps you get paid. Cash flow is so important to any business but especially to one just starting out.
My last (and perhaps final?) job was my first in the non-profit sector. I’d always worked in marketing
and advertising, so it was a little difficult for me to understand the dynamics of philanthropy.
I came across Dan Pallotta somewhere in my searching, and when I read that he started the AIDS bike rides
and the breast cancer walks, I was interested. Then I read him and became a total fan.
I think he has the best insights into the non-profit sector of anyone,but his recent blog post
for the Harvard Business Review is about workers over 50. What he says makes so much sense – and since
I’ve got 15 years on him it made me feel even better. Maybe, you will like it, too.
Michael McClatchey, 63, Plymouth, Michigan
Today, we’ve added our second video interview to our blog series on Older Entrepreneurs.
Gerry Fioriglio, a 57-year-old registered nurse, founded Family Caregivers Network in Pennsburg, Penn. with one employee – herself. Ten years later, the company has 70 employees, who provide home care, community education, caregiver support groups in a five county area.
Gerry never envisioned herself as entrepreneur, but after she had been laid off several times by large corporations, she enrolled in StartSmart offered by WORC (Women’s Opportunities Resource Center) in Philadelphia. The program helped her write a comprehensive five-year business plan and connected her with resources to launch her own company. As a business founder, Gerry finds gratification in the job security she has created for herself and her ability to give back to the community where she lives.
Gerry Fioriglio’s advice for entrepreneurs:
Statistics show there are more small businesses started during a “down economy” than during a stable economy. However, it’s not necessarily when you start a small business, but more important who you are and if you have the fortitude to start a small business.
If you are thinking of starting a small business, do your homework and be cautious. Plan on working many more hours than a traditional 9 to 5 job. In small business, your work does not end at 5 p.m.
In the beginning, you cannot afford a billing department or other management staff, so you become the person who does it all. When I started my business I was the nurse, but also my own administrative assistant, biller, receptionist, and recruiter. It was a lot of hard work.
But I remember what they told us at WORC; when you think you can’t do it anymore just relax and remember the sun WILL come up tomorrow and you can start again. I hung onto that for a long time.
The homework you need to do before starting a small business:
1. Do market research of your product or service to be sure it is a viable business and understand who your competitors are.
2. Do a 5-year business plan with financials and a marketing plan. Refer to it often to see if you are hitting your goals both in product/service and finance.
3. Remember to keep your overhead low. That is survival for small business. If not, you will quickly get into financial trouble.
4. If you need to finance your business don’t go overboard. Stick to the basics of what you need.
5. Market and network your business immediately. In the beginning, you become your business; your name becomes synonymous with your business name.
6. Get to know other small business owners so you can be a support to each other.
Some may think it is luck if you succeed, but it all boils down to: Did you do your homework first?
Over the past 12 months, Sam Newman, project videographer and fellow editor, and I have conducted video interviews with Americans who are 50-plus and jobless in 10 states (New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Nevada, California and West Virginia), as well as in Washington, D.C. Soon, we will be traveling to South Carolina, Louisiana and Oregon. When we finish our last couple of trips, we will have completed over 100 in-depth interviews.
It has been an amazing and rewarding journey.
Our interviewees are remarkable.
They eloquently and poetically describe how their lives have been shaped by the past 50 years of seismic social and economic change in the United States. They are boomers, and they have lived through the Sixties, Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the decline of American manufacturing, Reaganomics, corporate mergers and restructurings, downsizing, outsourcing, 9/11 and globalization. Sometimes, they are funny when they tell their stories. Sometimes, they cry when they talk about how unemployment has hurt them and their families.
Mostly, though, our interviewees are determined, resilient and courageous.
Unemployment at the age of 50-plus is a financial catastrophe that is difficult to overcome. It also creates an upheaval in our interviewees’ expectations about the future and the country: Will I ever be able to work again? How can I manage without health insurance? Can I still retire someday? Will Social Security and Medicare be there when I am eligible for benefits? Will my children and other young people be able to find jobs? Can the United States regain its economic competitiveness? Does the American Dream still exist?
We continue to stay in touch with our interviewees and follow the paths their lives are now taking. A handful have returned to full-time jobs. Most of them, however, are struggling to make a living from two or three part-time jobs at a level of compensation that is much lower than they received previously. They want to return to work; they want jobs; they do not want to sit home and collect unemployment.
They have reminded Sam and me that we are all part of an evolving American community. We are honored to have met them and documented their stories.
Next week, we’ll be adding our video interview with Gerry Fioriglio, founder of Family Caregivers Network, Inc., to our blog series on Older Entrepreneurs. Today, though, we’ve added a short clip from Gerry’s interview in advance!
In this clip, Gerry talks about how difficult it is for her to find qualified new employees for her home care business. Yet, encouragingly for our project demographic, as a small business owner, Gerry has found that mature workers are often her best employees.
The topics that Gerry discusses in this very short clip — acquiring new skills for new positions, the value that mature workers can bring to organizations, health coverage for employees, accepting lower pay in new jobs — are all recurring themes in our Over 50 and Out of Work multimedia documentary project.
“The job market has gotten worse in the last 24 months for the middle aged worker,” Nancy Entrup commented on our Aging Worker Initiative blog post yesterday.
She is correct.
According to the government’s unpublished data, the average length of time out of work for Americans 55 and older in January 2011 was 44.3 weeks, up from 42.8 weeks in December 2010.
This information is available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Table 31: Unemployed persons by duration of unemployment, age, sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, but you must email and request it.
Many older Americans have not been able to find employment in this difficult job market and are looking for ways to create a revenue stream. As a result, Americans ages 55 to 65 are forming businesses at the highest rate of any age group – 28 percent higher than the average rate for all adults. The business formation rate for people ages 45 to 54 is also higher than average.
Although many older Americans have started businesses with comparatively little capital investment, it is important to recognize that most businesses will not generate much revenue for some time and you must plan to have enough cash on hand to pay for your living expenses in addition to possibly having to put more money into your start up.
Who becomes an older entrepreneur?
(based on feedback from visitors to RetiredBrains.com)
• People who had a great idea and could deliver a unique product or service or had a passion for something they always wanted to do.
• People where were fed up with working for someone else or had been laid off or were worried about being let go.
• People who wanted an opportunity in which their efforts were directly related to their income—if they were going to work long hours they wanted something more to show for it.
• People who had access to the start up monies necessary to fund the product or service they were marketing.
• People who had family and/or friends that could work with them to both get their business off the ground as well as provide them with a place of employment.
Check out the Start Your Own Business section of RetiredBrains.com for the pros and cons, as well as for information on almost every aspect of starting your own business. Topics covered include:
• Doing Your Research
• Funding Your Business
• Incorporating Your Business
• Business Insurance
• A List of Appropriate Franchises (& Restaurant Franchises)
• Using Retirement Funds
• Good Reasons to Start Your Own Business Now
Today, we are kicking off our blog series on Older Entrepreneurs.
Our first video features Regina Mason, 54, founder and owner of Virago Baking Company in Lansdale, Penn. that specializes in natural and organic, gluten free and vegan foods. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Regina’s working career has been spent in the food services industry. After coping with several layoffs, Regina knew that she wanted to open her own business. With the help of the StartSmart program offered by WORC (Women’s Opportunities Resource Center) in Philadelphia, Penn., she launched her bakery and café three years ago. In her video interview, Regina talks about her passion for baking healthy foods and entrepreneurship.
Regina has also shared her Top Tips for prospective new business founders with us. She writes:
Starting your own business can be very exciting. It also can be very overwhelming.
You ask yourself:
• Where will I get the money to make it happen?
• Who will help with all the work?
• How can I afford to market the business?
I know I had all of these questions, and some days I still do. Here’s my advice:
• Utilize every resource available from government, personal, friends and family for the financial part. I used equity in my home, credit cards and savings. It’s scary, but you need to trust yourself. I also have been fortunate to have people who just wanted to help.
• Staffing without having the finances is also possible with the help of interns. Students have contacted me because they want to learn what we do at our bakery, and they need work hours for graduation. They volunteer to work for free for a set time in exchange for the opportunity to learn from us. When the job market is slow, it is very hard for these students to find paying jobs to complete their education. You give them internships to get experience, and they help you get the
• Everyone knows that you need to market your business, and marketing is not just about advertising. Social media and the Internet allow a business to market without spending much money. A good Web site is a must, but after that it’s all about driving traffic to your site and your place of business. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and many more give you a way to communicate with potential customers in a fun, casual way. If you are not familiar with how these work, ask your kids, remember those interns, they will show you! Search the Internet for your type of businesses and see where other similar businesses are listed. There are many free directories where you can post your business information. Upload photos, but don’t forget your logo!
• Most important — go for it with passion and you will find success!
A great deal is being written this week about Sunday’s Superbowl XLV matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers. The two teams have quite a lot in common:
They’re two of the oldest, winning-est, and above all most loved teams in America’s favorite sport (sorry baseball, I love you too, but it’s hard to argue with the ratings). On the technical side (bear with me here), both teams employ the 3 – 4 defense, rank first and second in defensive passer rating, and feature first round draft pick quarterbacks. For those who are less statistically oriented, consider these facts: both teams favor home grown players (the Steelers feature 18 out of 22 starters, the Packers 20), both coaches are in their fourth season with their teams, and you’d be harder pressed to find a fanbase in any sport more loyal than either of these two (except, of course, Red Sox Nation).
Statistics tell us that these teams are perfectly matched. ESPN, Sports Illustrated and every other commentator will be more than happy to elaborate on that, but they’re all missing one crucial point: these are the hardest working teams in the NFL.
It’s true, the numbers prove it. Passes completed, interceptions, passes defended, yards per attempt, and so on and so forth – but that’s what the commentators are there for. I’m not just talking about how hard they work for their astronomical paychecks, I’m talking about what these two teams represent to their fans and to a country that is still reeling from the Great Recession, and it begins with their names.
The “Pack” were founded in 1919 by Earl “Curly” Lambeau, who borrowed $500 from his employer, the Indian Packing Company, to buy uniforms, under the condition that the team be named for its sponsor. (By the way, the Packers are still the only non-profit, community owned major sports team in the United States and they boast the oldest team-name in the NFL.)
The “Stillers” were founded in 1933 and are the oldest franchise in the AFC. Originally named the Pirates, the team changed its name to the Steelers in 1939 and adopted the “Steelmark” logo at the recommendation of Cleveland-based Republic Steel in 1962. It’s yellow, red and blue ‘astroids’ represent the ingredients used in the manufacturing of steel: coal (yellow), iron ore (red) and scrap steel (blue).
There are no other teams in the NFL (or MLB, NBA, or NHL, as far as I know), who are named after an industry as these two are. It seems perfect, then, that in this month of anemic job growth and baffling unemployment numbers (see today’s data), these are the teams who will be playing on the big stage.
In the course of conducting interviews for Over Fifty and Out of Work, we have travelled to both Green Bay and Pittsburgh, embraced Cheeseheads and shaken hands that have wielded Terrible Towels. From paper mill workers in Green Bay to a restaurant manager in Detroit to steel workers in Weirton, WV, our interviewees are those fans, and it is altogether fitting for our project that these are the teams that triumphed through a long snowy football season to play under the lights in Dallas.
The hard work put forth day after day searching for jobs, networking, and interviewing; the risks taken to reinvent, retrain, and reeducate; the hardship endured – both financial and psychological; these are the values that Americans in general and baby boomers in particular deserve to be proud of, and I for one will think of this year’s Superbowl not just as a great show and a chance to drink some home brew, but as a celebration of the qualities that make us proud of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors. Go ____ers!
We will add Phyllis’s video to the Expert section of our site soon. In the meantime, she sent us a chart summarizing the initiative’s progress to date. She recommended that unemployed workers who are 55-plus and who live near one of the initiative’s sites should contact CAEL to enroll, get assistance and to demonstrate the continued need for the initiative.
Today, Sam and I are wrapping up our amazing trip to California. On Monday, we did 10 video interviews (a new one-day record) at the WorkSource office in Sante Fe Springs, southeast of Los Angeles. Our interviewees included a former printer, bookkeeper, graphic design salesman and garment inspector. They were arranged for us by Maria Mata, WorkSource coordinator/liaison with the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) out of Los Angeles and Glenna Amos, WorkSource program supervisor in Sante Fe Springs. Thank you, Maria and Glenna!
When we finished the day’s interviews, we drove to Bakersfield to be ready for the next day’s schedule. On Tuesday morning, we met Richard Gorman from the United Farm Workers Foundation, and he referred us to Eufrocina Ordaz, a community organizer in Lamont for the Dolores Huerta Foundation. She arranged for us to interview three agricultural fieldworkers who are over 50 and out of work in the foundation’s office. A challenging interview because they only spoke Spanish, but Sam saved the day! Thank you to Richard and Eufrocina!
In the afternoon, we drove south again to Newport Beach and interviewed a former Lehman Bros. executive. A day of remarkable contrasts!
We continued down to San Diego to be ready for our early morning flight to San Francisco. Upon arrival in northern California, we headed for Menlo Park to interview a senior IT project manager who lost his job in 2010, but got back to work recently in IT at one-third his former salary. Later in the day, we drove east to Tracy to interview a former banker who completed his certification to teach in California just when the state laid off 30,000 teachers due to budget cutbacks.
Later in the day, we drove east again to interview a dental technician who lost her job due to the downturn in California’s economy. She and her family are facing the imminent threat of foreclosure and struggling to survive on her husband’s paycheck.
Today, we wrap up this trip with three more interviews — one in Napa with a woman who worked in the wine and hospitality industry, the second in Livermore with another former IT executive and the last in Antioch with a woman who worked in technology security management.
Napa, January 28, 2011
We’ll be adding all these video interviews to our 100 Stories over the next few weeks.
We are currently in California, conducting more interviews for the 100 Stories section of the site. This looks to be our busiest trip yet and we were flooded with interest in the project, so we’ve decided to take this opportunity to begin a new aspect of Over 50 and Out of Work: user submitted videos!
Anyone who fits the characteristics of the project (Over 50 and Out of Work) is welcome to create and submit to us a homemade video telling his or her story to be posted online. Here are some quick guidelines:
• Simple equipment is fine! You can use a Flip video camera, for example.
• Make sure that we can see and hear you clearly.
• Keep the video short. No longer than three minutes.
• Give a brief introduction: Your name, age and what you were doing when you lost your job. Also, how long you’ve been out of work.
• Try to organize your interview around a single theme. For example, focus your answers on a topic such as lack of health insurance or the age discrimination you encounter in job interviews or the satisfactions you get from volunteering during your period of unemployment.
• Remember that potential employers will be able to see your video online! Keep this reality in mind.
• We will decide whether or not we post the videos that are submitted to Over 50 and Out of Work.
For now, just upload your video to a video sharing site like YouTube or Vimeo and send us the link! If you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We decided we would do a blog series on 50+ Entrepreneurs because many of our interviewees are considering the option of founding their own company as a way to create a job for themselves.
To get this project underway, we contacted Lynne Cutler, president of the Women’s Opportunity Resource Center (WORC), in Philadelphia, Penn. WORC runs a Start Smart Training Program for people who have a business idea, but need help to implementing it. Lynne and her associate Devon Allen put us in touch with five graduates of the Start Smart program, and we interviewed them last Wednesday and Thursday at their places of business.
Starting in February, we will begin posting video interviews with our 50+ Entrepeneurs to our blog. Our first five interviewees whose stories will go online are:
Gerry Fioriglio, R.N., founder of Family Caregivers located in Pennsburg, Penn., which provides private duty home care, eldercare management, healthcare staffing, educational outreach and support groups.
Lorraine Campman, founded of Music Oasis LifeLong Learning Center in Collegeville, Penn. She inspires creativity and teaches music to adults and seniors.
Lorraine with several of her students in music class.
Deborah Ramsey, opened Natural Wellness & Spa in Philadelphia, Penn. for women. The spa offers massages, nutritional counseling and natural products.
Elsie Bowen, founder of Precious Jewels Day Care in Philadelphia, Penn., with two of the children she cares for on a daily basis.
Regina Mason opened Virago Baking Company in Lansdale, Penn. three years ago. The bakery and cafe specializes in all-natural, organic, vegan and gluten free cakes, cupcakes, pastries and lunch foods.
We are in the process of revamping our Web site. The new site will include a section where Americans who are Over 50 and Out of Work can submit their own unemployment videos. We are eager to add this section because, unfortunately, we can’t travel to interview all the individuals who are contacting us, but we would like to make sure that their stories get told, too.
John David Powell contacted us through our site and referred us to the he had previously posted on YouTube.
We can add the links to our Facebook page now, but soon we will be able to add them to the Over 50 and Out of Work site, as well.
Thank you for getting this new part of our project going, John, and we hope that things turn around for you in 2011.
Thomas Bertin, 50, one of our Michigan interviewees, won a job counseling contest held by CAREEREALISM that ended on Dec. 31, 2010. Congratulations to you, Tom!
J.T. O’Donnell, the company’s founder and president, promised the contest winner free private job coaching until he or she found a new job.
Tom won the contest for three reasons: He participated; he wrote that he planned to teach others what he learned from the CAREEREALISM job counseling process, and he asked his network of connections to vote for him. You can read what O’Donnell wrote about his entry and Tom’s response here.
Amazingly, 4,100 people looked at the contest, but only 24 entered to try to win free job placement help. Not only did Tom submit a great entry application that was supported by friends and family, he tried something new to boost his chances of finding a job — a great strategy.
I heard about Kenny the Monk, one of our expert interviewees, from several of our Over 50 and Out of Work project participants before I met him. They described the talks he gives at job support group meetings as inspiring, motivating, humorous and helpful. At the end of his remarks, he always invites meeting attendees to get in touch with him by email. “I love to get e-mail,” he said, but few job seekers follow up to take advantage of his offer to give assistance and advice.
So, get in touch with those who offer to help and try something new to find a job in 2011.
As the new year begins, a paper mill worker from Little Chute, Wisc., a steelworker from Weirton, W. Va., an engineer from Cape Coral, Fla., an auto parts maker from Otter Lake, Mich., an information technology consultant from Piscataway, N.J., a carpenter from Las Vegas, Nev. and a social worker from Somerville, Mass. share two characteristics with 3.5 million other Americans: They are 50 years or older and unemployed.
Since the start of last year, I have been traveling around the country with a team, conducting video interviews for our multimedia documentary project, called Over 50 and Out of Work.
The Americans we have interviewed have lost their jobs, and, sometimes, their home, spouse, friends and self-image. What they haven’t lost, amazingly, is hope.
Most people who are 50-plus and jobless must return to work. They aren’t looking for jobs to keep their minds sharp or for social interaction or to occupy leisure time. They are looking for work because they need a job that will provide both current income and help rebuild their savings. They take job hunting seriously, describe it as a full-time job, and often express a willingness to relocate or to take a cut in pay for the opportunity to return to work. They know they have to overcome age discrimination to get rehired.
They know how it feels to send out hundreds of resumes that have been updated and revised to incorporate the last jobseeking tips and still get no response. No response at all, not even notification that their application was received. They know first-hand how it feels to stand in line with hundreds of other applicants, trying to be chosen for one of the two or three jobs that have become available. They know how it feels to go back to school, attend classes with twenty-year-olds and then still not get a job when they graduate with new skills.
When our interviewees describe their life and work histories, they talk about desegregation and the civil rights movement, Vietnam, women’s liberation, the decline of U.S. manufacturing, Reaganomics, corporate mergers and restructuring, outsourcing, 9/11 and globalization. They are boomers, and their life stories piece together a fascinating mosaic of the last half-century of American cultural and economic history.
Despite their accumulated life experience and years of on-the-job knowledge, however, our interviewees do not get back to work quickly. They know that the longer they are out of work, the more difficult it becomes for them to get rehired. The average length of time that older workers are unemployed has crept up to 45 weeks – longer than for any other age group. And, sometimes, their persistence and dogged hope pays off.
“ I know I have to get up the next day, and do it again, and I will continue to do so, until I get a job. I don’t care how long it takes, but I will eventually get a job …” said Stephen M., 60, last March. At the time, the former printing industry salesman from Massapequa, N.Y., had already been out of work for 18 months. He could no longer afford health insurance and had been forced to decimate his savings to care for his family.
At last, this past November, Stephen found a full-time position with a company on Long Island that provides records destruction and shredding services.
Pam B., 58, a restaurant manager from Berkley, Mich. and her husband, an auto parts salesman, both lost their jobs on the same day in January 2009. They were distressed that they might not be able to pay their daughter’s college tuition. They economized, went without health insurance, borrowed from family members and drew down their retirement savings to get by, but Pam had to find a job to help restore the family’s finances. She sent out hundreds of resumes, attended classes on project management and sought out job search counseling help.
“I would be glad to take a cut in pay, just to be able to work right now,” Pam said in August 2010.
Last October, Pam was hired as a project manager by a company in the landscaping industry.
Joe P., 50, a third-generation steelworker from Weirton, W. Va., has been laid off 10 times since he started working in the mill in 1986. In 2008, he was laid off for two years, then he was called back to work for two weeks, only to be laid off again in January 2010. While out of work, Joe earned an associate’s degree in fiber optics and applied for dozens of jobs, but he could not find new employment in the Ohio River Valley. He was becoming increasingly frustrated when we interviewed him in his home last May.
In December 2010, Joe was hired as a maintenance mechanic by a company that produces solar glass for industrial and automotive use.
“It’s an up and coming industry,” Joe wrote in an email, “and their complex is far and away a lot cleaner and work conditions would be better than my old job.” He is currently on a 90-day probationary period for the new position.
Most of our interviewees have not yet been able to find jobs, so not all the real-life, unscripted stories we are documenting in Over 50 and Out of Work have the happy endings that Stephen M., Pam B., and Joe P. have been able to produce for themselves. Nevertheless, many continue to pursue re-employment with grit, determination and their own individual variety of hope. They belie the generational stereotype that they are self-indulgent and self-absorbed. They rely on their own work ethic, their family and friends, their faith, the lessons they have learned from their parents and grandparents or their battered belief in the United States to see them through the tough times they are enduring and hope they will succeed in the New Year.
Register with temp firms in your local area as they don’t care about age, but are more interested in your skills and experience. Also, if you get work through a temp firm, it helps build your resume for future work assignments.
Try to get an interview with an employer you are not interested in working for to practice your interviewing skills. You don’t want to go to your first interview in a long time with the employer you are really interested in working for and make easily correctable mistakes.
Consider having your resume re-written or updated by an expert as the resume you used years ago is no longer appropriate.
Search for a job in areas that connect older workers with employers seeking to hire them. Click here and chose your state in the “location” area and your job category in the “job type” area. Then enter your city location in the “keyword” box as well as other modifying criteria to narrow your job search. Consider putting the word temporary after some of these criteria so the system will return job postings often more appropriate for older workers as employers are more likely to hire older workers on a temporary basis than their younger counterparts.
Look for temporary or project assignments as they are much more available than full-time jobs.
When applying for a job tell the employer you are willing to start working as a consultant or on a project basis; this often gives you a leg up on younger workers or are often unable to accept this kind of employment. Temporary employment or working on a consultative basis can often lead to full-time work.
Get information on the perspective employer prior to your interview. For example, contact someone who works for this employer who attended the same school you went to saying. “Hi. You and I went to the same school but graduated at different times. I’m interviewing for a position in your firm later this week and, before I meet with the hiring manager, I would like to test out a couple questions I have about the firm on you and see what you think the answers might be.” (Later, ask if you can use their name as an employee referral.)
Volunteer with a charity or non-profit. Although in most cases there is little or no monetary compensation, it is often excellent experience and can possibly lead to employment with a firm that is seeking that particular experience or appreciates your work ethic. It is also easier to find employment while you are working as you have a better mind set. Looking for a job on a full-time basis is not a very rewarding experience.
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Arthur Koff graduated from Dartmouth College in 1957 and did his postgraduate work at the University of Chicago Executive Program. He started his career with the Chicago Sun Times after which he spent 35 years in recruitment communications with both national and international advertising agencies. He helped build a suite of over 1000 discipline specific and geographic specific niche job sites focused on recruiting and has assisted employers develop cost effective recruiting strategies utilizing the Internet to reach seniors and retirees.
Art has made presentations at local, national, and international association meetings and at conventions and trade shows. He has appeared on NBC TV several times and been quoted as an authority on new developments that effect older Americans in major newspapers, national publications and on Web sites.
In 2003 Art founded RetiredBrains.com a suite of sites that are destinations for older boomers, seniors and retirees which include a free job board designed to assist employers connect with experienced “retired brains” who are not interested in being fully retired. He has written his first book Invent Your Retirement Resources for the Good Life, published by Oakhill Press. The book is a complete reference guide for boomers and seniors planning their retirement, retirees and people who have responsibility for parents and grandparents who are retiring or retired.
Joel Nitzberg, 57, a community educator from Somerville, Mass., went to work one morning and learned from his assistant that she had been laid off. She warned him that she thought he had lost his job, too. Joel called human resources and was told over the phone that not only he, but the entire lifelong learning department, which he headed, was being let go.
Joel is not our first interviewee to find out over the phone that he had lost his job, but he is the first to have to place the call to human resources to be told the bad news.
I find Alicia Munnell exceptionally knowledgeable and and frank about the obstacles confronting unemployed Americans over fifty as they attempt to get back to work. However, I think she underplays the critical importance of financial literacy in helping all Americans make sound financial decisions that can have lifetime impacts.
Research by Annamaria Lusardi, Olivia Mitchell and Vilsa Curto, available on the National Bureau of Economic Research website, indicates the “financial literacy among Americans is disappointingly low”. Further, “lack of financial literacy has important consequences; those who lack literacy are much less likely to plan for retirement, are more likely to end up with less wealth close to retirement, are less likely to invest in stocks and are more likely to use high-cost means of borrowing.”
Consider for a moment just some of the critical financial decisions that all of us make over a lifetime with enormous implications for retirement security:
1. How to manage/invest defined contribution, 401k type, retirement plans? Such plans are the vast majority of private sector retirement plans, yet investment decisions are left up to the employee.
2. How to determine how much savings is required to maintain a standard of living in retirement?
3. Whether or not to buy a house and how to finance the purchase?
4. How to use and manage credit card and other sources of debt?
5. How much insurance is appropriate and what to pay for it?
6. If the choice is available, how to decide when to start drawing Social Security benefits?
7. How to analyze the fees and tax treatments of different financial products and associated advisers?
This list is highly incomplete but, I hope, makes the point that financial decision making is an unavoidable component of daily life with impacts that can last a lifetime. But it is also important to understand that thinking through these issues can be relatively simple, with a little guidance, and not an exercise in advanced math. Remember that the financial services industry, like any industry, tries to cloak itself in mystery and mumbo-jumbo in order to justify high costs and fees.
To create some clarity and provide some guidance, I would be happy to respond to comments posted online or e-mails with financial questions, but I will answer online for the benefit of others. I can either refer you to information on the Web or give you direction based on my 30 years of experience in finance. Some information is already available on my blog at http://www.DwightSipprelle.com.
Mary Sironen became the first female bartender on the Strip in the early 1970s, when Las Vegas had one-tenth of its current population and its casinos were small and family-owned. She tended bar for over three decades, serving many high rollers and celebrities over the years, until she lost her job in 2009. Now 55 years old, she has been unable to find re-employment in her lifelong profession and is surviving day to day by selling collectibles online.
Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College and a former member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors (1995-1997), talks about the disastrous impact of the Great Recession on older workers, especially men. She urges older workers to keep their skills current, to demonstrate their continued productivity to employers and to work longer to be better prepared for their retirement years. She would like to see the government create jobs to rejuvenate the economy and to help Americans get back to work as soon as possible.
Michael Goldfarb is an author, journalist and broadcaster. Michael spent the first part of his career in his native New York working in the theatre. He moved to London in 1985 where he began working as a freelance journalist primarily covering theatre and film for the Guardian and the BBC. Via the BBC, he began to work more regularly as a broadcast journalist and eventually began filing features for NPR.
London – I have spent my entire life trying to be a name not a number but now the numerical description of my existence is taking on increased importance.
It is five years since I was laid off from permanent employment on the wrong side of 50. That’s a big number. Half a decade on I am permanently a member of the category of “underemployed.” I want to know how many more people like me there are. I don’t want educated guesses about it. I want to know how many people over 50 in the work force have lost their jobs; are working as consultants; are living on their savings etc. I want to know how their earnings compare to what they made before entering the ranks of the underemployed.
And I want those numbers Bureau of Labor Statistics certified.
Because without a clear, objective statistical understanding of what “underemployment” really is remedies for those of us inhabiting this twilight world cannot be found. Remedies are needed. Because if I am correct and we are talking about millions more people than previously thought then the demographic time bomb posed by those of us born from the late forties to late fifties that America’s media have been warning of will detonate in mass poverty, not just of us, but our children.
Anecdotes can only gloss over the reality. My story is a perfect example. When I was laid off from WBUR, a public radio station in Boston, I was at the height of my career. In the previous three years my journalistic work had won every major award available to a broadcast journalist. My first book had just been published and was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2005.
I spent a year pursuing journalism jobs, no full-time work materialized. Like the automotive manufacturing business in the 70′s journalism was going through a massive downsizing. Reporters and editors over 50 – the most expensive employees – were being bought out and laid off.
At the same time I outlined another book. Simon and Schuster gave me a good advance to write it. By doing occasional bits of journalism I could just about make ends meet. OK, I thought that’s my job now. I’m a self-employed small (very small) businessman. No longer a wage slave.
But of course that is not quite the situation. The book was published last year. In the the two and a half years I was working on it the book business began to retrench the way the news business has. I have no contract for another book and so I am working full time as a journalist. In 2010 I calculate I have written approximately 60,000 words, the equivalent of writing 175 page book. My output is approximately the same as it was when I worked for WBUR and before that NPR. My earnings are 80 percent less.
To outsiders, including the IRS, I am a full time self-employed person. To my readers – and I have more than a few when my stuff is published at BBC.com and Globalpost.com – I am a full-time journalist and still a very successful one. But the reality is that my earnings are so much less than they should be that I consider myself “underemployed.” Full-time employment is not just about hours worked, it is about money earned.
I am certain that there are millions like me in many different fields. People at the top of their professions who were laid off because they were over 50. They take stock, think that they worked too long and were too good at they did to simply walk away from the career they had chosen. Their work ethic is undiminished, so they set themselves up in a freelance, self-employed capacity, work the same hours they always worked … probably even more since vacations don’t figure in our lifestyle. To their neighbors they are wonderful examples of making the best of adversity. But the reality is they are “underemployed.”
There are too many of us to know our names … but an accurate count of our numbers … that is something we should know.
Since early 2010, we have been interviewing Americans for our multimedia documentary project Over 50 and Out of Work, and the project will continue on into 2011. We are about two-thirds of the way toward our goal of completing 100 interviews with people who are 50 years or older and unemployed.
We began in the New York metropolitan area, conducting video interviews with folks from New York and New Jersey. Over the course of the year, we have traveled to Wisconsin, West Virginia, Michigan, Washington, DC, Florida, Rhode Island, Nevada and Massachusetts. Next year, we will be heading to more states that have very high rates of unemployment, including California, Mississippi and Oregon.
Before the year ends, we want to say thank you to every person who has volunteered to participate in our project. We are grateful and honored to have heard and documented your stories.
Although we have often been told that the videos are difficult to watch, isn’t that the point? The hardships that people are facing due to unemployment aren’t scripted for entertainment, but real, true and still ongoing.
One way we think of our project is as an updated multimedia version of a Studs Terkel nonfiction book. Through the mosaic of people’s experiences, a composite picture of the impact of the Great Recession on older Americans, in particular, the boomer generation, emerges.
Even though the stories are we are recording can be sad, the people themselves are not, and we see them as resilient and brave. As we have written previously, they are not looking for handouts, but for jobs and for an opportunity to become self-supporting and productive once again.
Next year, we will continue to add interviews with people who are 50-plus and jobless to our site until we reach our goal of 100. We will also add more interviews with experts to provide context and advice for jobseekers to our site. Overall, we have many more plans to grow our project and enhance its impact.
We welcome the terrific suggestions that our site visitors are contributing. Please keep sending your comments and thoughts to us at Over 50 and Out of Work.
We send you our best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2011.
This past week, the Long Island Breakfast Club (LIBC), a job support group, announced that it will no longer hold meetings and events due to the difficulties of raising funds and operating the nonprofit. Also, Valentina Janek, one of our interviewees who is the group’s president and among its original founders, has found a full-time job working for Nassau County. Congratulations, Valentina!
LIBC has helped hundreds of people cope with the shock and aftereffects of unemployment. All of its members found support and many found jobs due to LIBC’s upbeat, welcoming attitude and positive approach to the job search process.
Over 50 and Out of Work also benefited directly from LIBC’s openness and enthusiasm. When we were getting our multimedia documentary project underway, LIBC invited me to its meetings and allowed me to describe the project to its members. Some of our earliest interviewees came to us through the LIBC. We are deeply grateful for the assistance the generous organization gave us and respect the work it has done to help so many others as well.
Today, we have added our 54th video interview to Over 50 and Out of Work. It’s the fifth of our eight interviews from Las Vegas where the metropolitan area’s unemployment rate is over 14 percent.
Albert Yasbick, 59, an electrical engineer moved to Las Vegas in 2005 to work for the power company. Originally from the South, Yasbick, a former boxer who has an irrepressible sense of humor and indefatigable optimism, has been unemployed since January 2010.
When the real estate boom in Nevada collapsed, Yasbick lost his job and has not been able to find full-time re-employment, although he has submitted close to 200 applications. He is surviving on part-time work, unemployment benefits and withdrawals from his 401K, but concerned that he will lose his home to foreclosure if he can’t find a new job soon.
One of our interviewees, George Dys, 60, a design engineer from Forestdale, RI, describes how he was laid off in the video below. He feelss bitter because he was let go 19 hours short of becoming fully vested in his former employer’s 401K.
This morning, I learned about a new online service. There’s a Web site iDUMP4U that breaks up for you! For a fee, of course. $10 for a basic breakup, $25 for an engagement breakup and $50 for a divorce call.
The cold impersonality of this Internet business (supposedly used by 200 people already) made me think of the heartless treatment some of our Over 50 and Out Of Work interviewees have received when they lost their jobs.
Take a look at their videos:
Bill Fleming, 55, a flooring installer from Little Chute, WI, was told that he lost his job over the phone, despite his former employer’s advertised “open door” policy for employees.
Joe Magnone, 50, a steelworker from Weirton, WV, has been laid off eight times from his job in the mill over the past 30 years. Magnone describes the casual, unfeeling way he has been laid off:
“These people just come right up to you and say, ‘Hey’ — I mean, not even a hello, not even a cup of coffee — ‘you finish up tomorrow. You’re done.’”
Our most recent interviewee, Joel Nitzberg, 57, a social worker and community educator from Somerville, MA, had to call human resources to confirm that he and his entire department were being laid off. (His video interview will be online soon.)
Nevada continues to suffer the more than any other state from the housing bust. Two-thirds of homes with mortgages are underwater, and one in 79 households received a notice of default or foreclosure last October in the Silver State.
Last month, when we interviewed eight Nevadans who were over 50 and out of work , we found that four of them had been severely impacted by the decline in the state’s home values. Kimberly Gilek hopes to sell her home soon, although it is worth much less than she paid for it, because she needs the money for living expenses. Albert Yasbick and Mary Sironen are both unemployed and their houses are underwater. They are struggling to make payments and stay in their homes. Anthony Lalos has already lost his home to foreclosure.
“The impact of the recession on Nevada is horrible. There’s just people out of work; people losing their homes. We’re the number one state in foreclosures. Houses all around are sitting empty, and every time I see one, I think of the poor people. Where did they go? What did they do?”
Seek out mentoring and advice. Scott Gerber, 27, featured in the story, has founded the Young Entrepreneur Council targeted at 17 to 33 year olds, but there are other business mentoring organizations, such as SCORE that offer free assistance to all ages.
Entrepreneurship can be a viable choice, especially when the alternative is unemployment.
The tools and ability to become an entrepreneur are more readily accessible at lower cost through the Internet — office space can be virtual and skills, such as Web design, can be learned online.
“Dr. David DeLong is an expert in organizational behavior who has studied the challenges aging boomers face in the job market. His recent study, Buddy, Can You Spare a Job, is one of best reports to date on the job market for older Americans.
DeLong talked with Over50andOutofWork.com about five ways older workers can cope with job hunting and the current employment market. Over50andOutofWork is a terrific new online resource produced by journalist Susan M. Sipprelle and her team. The site features interviews with a range of top experts such as DeLong, but also is posting a series of 100 interviews with out-of-work older Americans who discuss their plight.”
Today, we are adding to our site two more of our eight interviews from Las Vegas, as well our expert interview with David DeLong.
Kimberly Gilek, 50, moved to Las Vegas 16 years ago when the city’s economy was booming. A single parent, she worked as a lab technician and phlebotomist, while raising her children and attending nursing school part-time. Two years ago, her back was broken in a car accident, which forced her to change her career plans. Currently, she is enrolled in a work-study program, barely scraping by and hoping that when she completes her degree in sign language translation for the deaf that she will be able to find work in the struggling Las Vegas economy.
Luis Martinez, 66, a carpenter, also moved to Las Vegas when its economy was strong, and he made good money working on casino construction sites. Several years ago, however, he had heart bypass surgery. Although he has recovered and needs to work to supplement his Social Security income, he cannot find jobs in the troubled Las Vegas economy.
Yesterday, we interviewed Alicia Munnell, Director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, for Over 50 and Out of Work.
We asked her what can be done to help Americans of all ages, but especially older workers, find employment. She believes that the government must step in to help people get back to work by creating jobs.
Here’s the video clip of her answer.
Next week, we will have her full video online in the Experts section of our site.
The negotiated “unemployment extension” does NOT mean that unemployment benefits will be extend beyond 99 weeks. The maximum number of weeks that jobless Americans can collect benefits remains at 99 weeks.
Currently, there is a tiered system of benefits in place that allows unemployed individuals to collect benefits for more weeks in states with higher unemployment rates. The “extension” will allow this system to stay in place for an additional 13 months. At present, there are 25 states with unemployment rates higher than 8.5 percent. In those states, unemployment benefits will remain available for 99 weeks for 13 more months.
Many of of our Over 50 and Out of Work interviewees have already lost their homes or are currently facing foreclosure. They feel stonewalled by their mortgage lenders and find themselves unable to renegotiate the terms of their loans to save their homes.
“I am in the midst of fighting to keep my house,” one of our project interviewees, who remains unemployed, emailed recently. “Citimortgage has filed foreclosure papers. They don’t want to work with anyone.”
The interviews we added today are both from Nevada where the statewide rate of unemployment is 14.2 percent, the highest rate in the country. In the Las Vegas metropolitan area where we conducted all of our Nevada interviews, the unemployment rate is 15 percent.
Anthony Lalos – Thirteen years ago, he moved to booming Las Vegas from California. He successfully sold cars, then manufactured homes and, finally, time shares. When the economy soured and discretionary spending evaporated, he lost his full-time job. Over the past 2 1/2 years, he has also lost his home and all his savings. Although he retains his optimism about the future, the overwhelming number of job seekers in Las Vegas has made it almost impossible for Anthony to find any work at all.
Edward Walker – Orphaned at 11 years old, Edward was sent from Cleveland, Ohio to live with family in Mississippi, where he was one of the first three black students to desegregate Benton High School in Benton, Miss. He learned to cook when he served in the U.S. Army for three years in the early 1980s. After working in many kitchens and overcoming drug abuse, he was awarded a scholarship to attend Le Cordon Bleu College in Las Vegas. By the time he graduated, the recession had begun, and he was unable to find a full-time position. He has survived on short-term, low-paying jobs and unemployment.
Note: When we arrived at the Las Vegas Nevada JobConnect office on Monday, Nov. 8, it was jammed with job seekers. They waited to see counselors, scanned the printouts of job postings tacked up to the walls and lined up to use the facility’s computers, copiers and fax machines.
Nishan Burton, office manager, could not have been more helpful to us, but she and the rest of the staff, clearly have little time for anything but trying to help the overwhelming number of unemployed Nevadans find jobs.
Today, Flashmobs4jobs.org organized an 11:30 a.m. flash mob at the New York Federal Reserve, 33 Liberty Street in Manhattan, in support of the unemployed who have exhausted their unemployment benefits. They are often called 99ers, because 99 weeks is the maximum length of time that unemployment insurance can be paid, although not all the jobless are eligible for the full 99 weeks of benefits.
Attendees wore dark clothes and carried bread to evoke the food lines of the 1930s Great Depression.
Christine Williams, currently employed as a transit worker, showed up to support extension of unemployment benefits on behalf of her friends who have lost their jobs. Pending transit layoffs have made her fearful that she will lose her job in the near future.
Donna Meves, manager of Plus 50 at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, emailed us today and asked to be added to our email contact list. More importantly, she added a comment to our site in which she generously invited people who Over 50 and Out of Work to contact her for help. Take a look at the site, especially its Tips for Students section.
Stay Thirsty, an online news magazine, has asked us to write an article for its December issue (our third!) on the emotional impact of the holidays on our interviewees and anyone who is over 50 and out of work. Please send us your thoughts and comments!
Yesterday, two out of our three interviewees told us that their homes were underwater – the amount of their mortgages greatly exceeds the value of their homes — and that they were facing the risk of foreclosure. Their situation is common in Nevada, especially in the Las Vegas metro area, as reported by RealtyTrac:
Nevada, Florida, Arizona post top state foreclosure rates Nevada continued to document the nation’s highest state foreclosure rate in October, with one in every 79 housing units receiving a foreclosure filing during the month — nearly five times the national average. A total of 14,205 Nevada properties received a foreclosure filing during the month, a decrease of 13 percent from the previous month but an increase of nearly 3 percent from October 2009 — the first year-over-year increase in Nevada foreclosure activity since September 2009.
Top 10 metro foreclosure rates in Nevada, California and Florida
Foreclosure activity in Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev., increased less than 1 percent from October 2009 and the metro area continued to post the highest foreclosure rate among metropolitan areas with a population of 200,000 or more — one in every 70 housing units received a foreclosure filing during the month.
Today, between our scheduled interviews for Over 50 and Out of Work, we stopped by Southern Nevada’s annual Project Homeless Connect, held at the Cashman Center in Las Vegas. Last year, over 3,500 homeless individuals showed up at the center to receive help. Project organizers expected close to 5,000 this November, given Nevada’s high unemployment rate of 14.4 percent.
Homeless individuals lined up to enter the Cashman Center.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., homeless individuals were able to receive free medical care, benefits assistance and job readiness services, as well as food and clothing.
Volunteers helping the homeless.
At the well-organized event, police and volunteers shepherded individuals into the center and helped them access the various services offered.
Job readiness counseling.
Sam and I also conducted three more video interviews for our multimedia documentary project today.
After we interview Mayor Oscar Goodman tomorrow, we fly back to New Jersey so that we can catch up on editing and posting our latest interviews online!
We started our interviews Monday morning at the Nevada JobConnect in Las Vegas. The office was jammed with job seekers, waiting to speak with counselors, scanning the computer printouts of job listings tacked to the walls and lining up to use the site’s computers, fax machines and copiers.
The office staff, clearly overwhelmed by the number of unemployed while coping with state budget cutbacks, could not have been more helpful to us and allowed us to use a conference room to conduct several interviews for Over 50 and Out of Work. Thank you, Nevada JobConnect!
Thus far, we’ve interviewed a laid-off car salesman, a food services worker, a bartender, a carpenter and a customer service agent for the airline industry. We have more video interviews scheduled for today and tomorrow, including the mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman.
Pam Buckley, 58 from Berkley, Mich., has spent her entire career in restaurant management. Unemployed since Jan. 2009, she has applied for hundreds of jobs and encountered the issue raised in the Huffpost story:
The level of frustration, it just beats you down. And the thing is, that after a while, the first thing that’s wrong with you, is that you haven’t worked for a while. There are a lot of job postings even in my own career that say you must be currently working to apply for this job.
The national unemployment rate is stuck at 9.6 percent. The unemployment rate for workers 55 years and older is 7.2 percent; a statistic that seems reassuring because it’s lower than the national average.
But the simple figure obscures the detail. Older workers are continuing to confront record high levels of unemployment. Moreover, the duration of unemployment for 55-plus workers is longer than national average, longer than for any other age group and growing longer, not shorter, despite the declared end to the Great Recession.
Last February, the average amount of time all workers were unemployed was 29 weeks, but it was 36 weeks for workers 55 and older. By September, the average rose to 34 weeks for all workers and climbed to 42 weeks for workers over 55.
Check out this article A New Tax Break for the Self-Employed. There is a small and short-lived tax break for the self-employed in 2010 only — they can deduct their health insurance premiums before they calculate their payroll taxes. It’s not much of a reduction, but it’s something.
In his Sept. 23 column, The Responsibility Deficit, David Brooks explored Philip K. Howard’s idea that our country is uncoupling actions and consequences with unfortunate results for all of us.
“Over the past several decades, he [Howard] argues, a thicket of spending obligations, rules and regulations has arisen, which limits individual discretion, narrows room for maneuver and makes it harder to assign responsibility,” Brooks wrote.
Last week, I was talking with Claire Insalata-Poulos, founder of Table to Table, located in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. This wonderful nonprofit collects food that would otherwise goes to waste and delivers it to organizations that serve the hungry in five northern N.J. counties.
Need for this service is growing (we now have more American living in poverty than ever before), yet Table to Table can’t collect enough food because, Insalata-Poulos told me, some businesses are unwilling to donate the food they simply throw away. They are afraid of being sued! She said it’s breaking her heart that she can’t feed more people when she sees or learns about food going to waste. Does this outcome make any sense when so many people are suffering?
Similarly, and more directly relevant to Over 50 and Out of Work, Dr. David DeLong, a research fellow at the MIT AgeLab and a consultant to companies on the issue of changing workforce demographics, writes that one reason CEOs don’t hire older workers is that senior executives are hamstrung by overly conservative human resource and legal departments. Does this outcome make sense when we have 14 million Americans who are 50-plus and jobless?
“CEOs must make sure that their human resource and legal experts are helping the organization leverage older worker potential, instead of passively encouraging mediocrity, while waiting for uncertainties to be resolved. If Congress and government agencies are unwilling to clarify the law in these areas, employers must take on the challenge themselves,” wrote DeLong in Five Reasons Why CEOs Don’t Care About the Aging Workforce.
Yesterday, we sent emails to Gov. Joe Manchin and John Raese, both candidates for the West Virginia Senate seat. We asked them to take a look at the interviews we did in Weirton, WV and invited them to take part in our project. We would be delighted to travel back to West Virginia to conduct video interviews with them. What do they have to say about getting people who are 50+ back to work?
Newsweekloses another big name as Howard Fineman departs for The Huffington Post. He’ll serve as senior politics editor, revamping and reshaping the Washington bureau. Fineman, who joined Newsweek in 1980 and has been its chief political correspondent since 1984, will be one of HuffPo’s oldest staffers at 61 years old, and his appointment serves as an indicator Arianna’s Internet venture continues to grow up. He’ll continue as an analyst on MSNBC but will stop his weekly column on the network’s website.
I just wanted you to know that I am starting temporary position for ACE hardware Corporate office. It’s a start and I am hoping that something else well come along or that this turns into a permanent position. I am not out of the woods yet, I still need to pay my rent and catch up other bills. But it’s nice to think I have a job to g to Monday Morning.
I received this email from one of the people we interviewed in Detroit, Michigan, and she gave me her permission to add her email to our blog.
Monday, I will see if there is anything I can do to help her. In the meantime, if you can send her your moral support through a blog post, I know she would appreciate it. Thank you very much.
I don’t know if you well remember who I am. But I was the person you interviewed at Operation ABLE, in Detroit, Michigan. I just wanted to let you know how things are going.
Well, I haven’t found a job. My phone is off, Cable and Internet is next, My bills are all behind. The Last Unemployment check that I received was on May 28, 2010. I have no Income, my retirement funds are empty, and I did finally get a increase in my food stamps from $16.00 a month to $200.00 a month.
But, unless I have shut off notices for my utilities and evection notice for the rent of my home “Human Resources” (Welfare) can’t help me.
I have never felt so degrade, defeated, and lost especially by our government. Because those of us who are not receiving any unemployment are not in the count of those receiving. So it reflects a smaller amount of people unemployed.
I feel like have have failed and if I died tomorrow no one would care. It’s hard when you been looking for work and no one seems to want you. I have skills but no degree. the discouragement gets stronger as the days go by.
I don’t know where to go.
Thank you for listening and caring about those of us 55 and over struggling to make it.
Went to the Brooklyn Cyclones Stadium MCU Park Career Fair that was held in partnership with AARP today to take a few photos. Approximately, 2500 job seekers showed up for the 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. event, most of them 50+ years of age.
Ninety minutes before the fair was scheduled to begin, some people were already waiting, in the near ninety-degree heat, outside the stadium.
An hour later, the line stretched around the outside of the stadium and began to extend along Surf Ave.
We are very grateful to the AARP for the help the organization has given us on our project. Check out AARP’s upcoming career fairs, to be held nationwide, here.
Jim of Careers sent the video to me. Since I live in Atlanta, I don’t know if I qualify for your program, but I, too was “downsized” at 62 in October 2008 from the firm where I had worked, been promoted and earned raises and bonuses for 8.5 years. The effect was financially devastating – my 401k had just tanked along with everyone else’s (I moved it to cash the minute I was let go and saved some of the losses); I went from a great paying job to no work income; I suddenly had nothing to do days but apply for jobs. I never got an interview. I must have applied for over 1,000 positions; some with the federal government – each of those applications taking 1/2 to a whole day all by itself. I began taking unemployment insurance, a tremendous help, but not enough, and later on Social Security, also a great help, but not enough, even together. I’ve been able to refinance my home at a much lower rate since I started taking my Social Security and paying every single bill a few days early for about three months – secrets of the credit world.
I joined and attended jobseeker meetings all over the area, I got on email lists for job announcements, I posted my resume everywhere, revised it frequentlly, I activated my LinkedIn and Facebook presence, and even went door to door with my resume looking for work. I asked for prayer at the several churches where I am involved. Nothing happened. Finally, a presenter at one of the jobseeker groups I had stayed in contact with asked for help finding a part time sales assistant for a local office. I sent her my resume and got the position. It’s a small job, but slowly growing. I work about 10-12 hours/week there. I had an idea that lots of small or start up businesses would need what I can offer. I printed cards, wrote a business plan and went shopping. Standing in line at the tag office, Office Depot, Staples, or Office Max, I can now find opportunities to exchange cards with my potential clients. I try to look “business casual” whenever I go out and carry lots of cards. I’ve added several more clients, but am seeking more – my week is not yet full, but I’m having fun, living very frugally, and hoping for the best.
The Office Whisperer
(770) 675-3783 – home office
(770) 312-3332 – cell
Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.
Yesterday, we interviewed in Otter Lake, Rochester Hills, Berkley and Sterling Heights. One couple we interviewed both lost their jobs when Lapeer Metal Stamping in Lapeer, Mich. closed. Neither of them has been able to find new employment. LaPeer Metal Stamping supplied parts to the Big Three — GM, Ford and Chrysler.
Mary McDougall, executive director of Operation Able, Bernice Kerner, MIS and Special Projects Coordinator of the Macomb/St. Clair Workforce Development Board, part of Michigan Works!, and Mary Ellen Brayton, Career Counselor at JVS, among others, have been tremendously helpful to us during our trip to Michigan. We are very grateful for their assistance and support. Mayor Bing’s office and the Detroit Urban League have been unresponsive.
We are continuing our series of interviews in Michigan. Yesterday, we drove to Southgate, Ypsilanti, Plymouth and Dearborn to meet with folks who are 50-plus and unemployed. Driving around, we passed this shuttered GM plant in Livonia:
next to its now unused employees’ parking lot, encircled by barbed wire and occupied only by weeds, grasses and goldenrod.
Yesterday, we arrived in Detroit. The city’s unemployment rate is estimated to be in the range of 35 to 50 percent.
The streets here are quiet. There is little or no traffic, even in the heart of downtown. Few pedestrians.
The streetscape, driving into downtown Detroit. The former site of the Detroit Tigers ballpark is on the left.
There are no chain grocery stores in the city of Detroit any longer.
Detroit’s enormous abandoned former train station, encircled by barbed wire, looms over a small grassy park, occupied only by a few homeless men camping under trees. A Salvation Army truck parked alongside the park provided lunch for them and a few other men who walked up to its open window, collected their food and drifted away again.
At least half the homes in the city’s residential areas that we drove through yesterday are empty — boarded up, burnt out, vacated. Many houses have been razed. On the empty lots, grasses, Queen Anne’s lace and other wildflowers flourish.
One of Detroit’s three major new casinos can be seen behind this deserted, torched home. Nature is gradually reclaiming its yard.
At the end of the day, we interviewed Mary McDougall, executive director of Operation Able, a 25-year-old nonprofit, that helps older workers retrain for new jobs and one of the organization’s clients, who is 58 years old and jobless. Her unemployment benefits have expired, and she is turning to family and local social services agencies to help her eat and pay her bills until she finds work again.