New Reality for Older Workers

The current recession has already cost hundreds of thousands their jobs – over half a million in November, 320,000 in October and 403,000 in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – and more will likely join the unemployed and underemployed in 2009. At least 10.3 million Americans are currently unemployed. Some analysts predict the unemployment rate, which has reached a 15-year high at 6.7 percent, to top 9 percent by the end of the year.

At an Urban Institute panel discussion entitled Help Wanted: Mitigating the Recession’s Toll on the Workers Most at Risk, experts discussed the added challenges and stark realities faced by vulnerable groups such as disadvantaged youth, African American men, single mothers, formerly incarcerated men and older Americans.

Richard Johnson, an economist specializing in health and income insecurity at older ages, pointed out that although earlier economic downturns affected older workers least in terms of getting laid off and making good wages, this time around women and men over 55 are in a more precarious situation. Last month 298,000 adults 65 and older were unemployed, about 50 percent more than in December 2007.

While their overall unemployment rate might still be lower than other groups, when they do lose their jobs they will less likely find work than younger people and those that do get employed will make far less money. Compound this with the fact that more small businesses and retail shops, which tend to be owned by or to hire older workers, are closing their doors every day. In short, the current recession is hitting older folks much harder.

Fewer older Americans can now afford to retire, faced with sagging home prices, slumping stock values, thinning employer-sponsored pension and retiree health plans, and rising health care costs.

The picture is bleak. But it gets uglier if one is an older gay individual, as is an estimated 3.5 million Americans. As AARP points out, “many older gays and lesbians face a wide range of problems concerning inheritance, retirement benefits, social services, health care, and more.” Even if a couple has been together for decades, they are denied economic benefits heterosexual married people take for granted. Taxes are filed separately and at a higher combined amount. Shared health coverage and costs are not guaranteed. Pension and social security can not be inherited by a surviving partner. Hard earned wealth and property built together by a homosexual couple is heavily taxed upon the death of a partner.

It is going to be rough for some time. It continues to be rough for certain Americans.

Image from Daylife.com.
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