Reality After Boston in April StayThirsty.com
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.
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Upcoming Set for Life screenings
We have more good news about upcoming Set for Life screenings and hope you will be able to attend one of these events:
Myrtle Beach International Film Festival
Thursday, April 25 at 3:00 p.m.
Carmike Cinema Broadway at the Beach
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Workers Unite! Film Festival
Monday, May 13 at 9:00 p.m.
22 East 12th Street @ University Place
New York, New York
Princeton Public Library
Wednesday, June 5 at 7:00 p.m.
65 Witherspoon Street
Princeton, New Jersey
Madrid International Film Festival
July 1st to 6th, Madrid (details to be announced)
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.
We consolidated our Over 50 and Out of Work/Set for Life social media. Please continue to add your comments and thoughts to our website, Facebook and Twitter.
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!
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Dreaming Big Again, March Stay Thirsty column
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.
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Set for Life screenings in DC
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.
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What’s a Worker to Do?
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.
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Update on Set for Life, our documentary
We have lots of wonderful news to share about Set for Life, our documentary:
* Michael Winerip wrote Documenting a Generation’s Fall about Set for Life in the New York Times, and our film was featured at the New Jersey Film Festival on Saturday, Jan. 26.
* 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.
Please email us at email@example.com with any questions or comments about Set for Life and continue to visit us at Over 50 and Out of Work, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Add your voice and thoughts to our online discussions about unemployment among Americans who are 50+.
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Happy holidays from the Over 50 and Set for Life team
Happy Holidays from the Over 50 and Out of Work and Set for Life team!
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.
Please continue to add your comments and thoughts to our website, Facebook and Twitter.
Our best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year! We hope all those who are seeking employment find good jobs in 2013.
Sue Sipprelle & Sam Newman
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Needed: One Employer as published in Stay Thirsty December 2012
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.
This column originally appeared in Stay Thirsty December 2012.
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Upcoming Set for Life screening and recent reviews of the documentary
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
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Set for Life: Film Screening and Discussion on Tuesday, November 27
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.
Space is limited and registration is required. Register today at:http://conta.cc/RGb3cL.
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