Underemployment: A no-win struggle for older workers

Last Thursday, Over 50 and Out of Work testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee hearing Stories from the Kitchen Table:  How Middle Class Families are Struggling to Make Ends Meet.  Unfortunately, we were only asked one question, because we had so much more information on unemployment and underemployment that we were prepared to contribute to the hearing.

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?



Frances White said:

Hey I am 51 and do not look my age, and I essentially have the same story, I am very computer literate and have my MBA, but can't find a full time job. The only job offers I seem to get are commission related and I can't take a job that is based on commission, because i don't have anyone to help me. I am working part-time, but even in theat parttime position they won't hire me for other positions within the company saying I am to senior. LOL!. Meanwhile I work 14 hours a day bringing home less than 200 a week. They tell you to get and education, but as a black female, that doesn't hold water for me. This is for Thomas, you do not need to be a professional writer to write. Just listen to your muse write what ever story comes to mind and find an agent, all it costs you is a little time and effort.

Indian Chief said:

I have given up. Out of work 1 year and can't buy an interview for anything. A boomer from the 1950's is considered a pariah if some sort. If you want to go back to school, you will have nothing more than a piece of paper and a bill. You still won't get hired. Truth be told, NOBODY CARES!

Jorge Rodriguez said:

I am 59 and working as Campus Police in a local college. Our department is going through transition to bring a new security company G4S . I have fellow Officers working their for 36 and 26 yrs. The older employees there are Hispanics and blacks. After 07/01/14 we will be out of work, due that don't fit in.

kristy graham said:

Yes they do descriminate, it happened to me too. Go on the fair housing and employment website, they will give you the info you need. I have actually had employers ask me for my picture along with my resume. I have spoken with people at employment agencies that were supposedly helping me find a job, when I asked him if there's anything wrong my resume, I know I have good references why does it take so long they would actually laugh.

kristy graham said:

Dont give up go back to school become their competition. What goes around, comes around. When they get our age it will be worse for them. They do not care that we have lost our houses, or credit, our livelyhood, our hope. But, they will remember us when it happens to them.

kristy graham said:

I am an older woman and cannot find a job I have job skills but everytime I go in for an interview in or not unattractive and look at me like I had two heads or something, so I'm going back to school what comes around goes around those same people it won't hire us because of our age will face the same thing only worse when they hit our age move on go back to school and become their competition. they do not care that we have lost their homes lost her credit facing homelessness, but they will remember all of us when it happens to them.

graham said:

never give up life is not a rehearsal

Tracy said:

Hi, I know now what it is like to be outsourced and then on top of that to be wrongfully terminated. After working for a company 15+ years one day the CEO,VP of Physician Offices,HR and our supervisor and her supervisor tells us that we are no longer efficient for the work and that in 11/2 weeks we will no longer be working for them but a corporation that is out of town will take over. We then are told that it will be only 45 mins away where we will be working. (Not true 60 minutes one way). We were not given a choice but to go with the company or quit. The company that took over targeted me at the get go. I was to do all the offices collections,charity, return mail and expired patients. There are over 16 offices that this covered. Normally the collections was split between 2 people and the returned mail was done by each single office. Then on top of that all the phones calls were put on myself and one other co-worker. I was given deadlines that were unreasonable. I was pushing claims out the door faster than even 2 could do. The results - written up for not meeting my deadlines. When I appealed and showed them proof of what I was doing - called in to the office the next day and terminated because someone heard me say something that was absolutely false. I had not chance to prove my innocence but escorted out rudely by Security and told if I ever came back they would call the police. Now I am 57 - competing with younger,qualified people and on top of that a black mark on my record. And the company is fighting my unemployment pay. How does one get back up after that?

Roz said:

I'm 52 and have been out of work for 4 years. I worked over 30 years in education and social work positions. I was part of a lay off in the mental health field in NC. I am trying to support myself and assist my daughter, who is in college. I know age discrimination is a factor to my state of unemployment.

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