New Orleans A couple of days ago The Wall Street Journal ran a starkly realistic and somewhat depressing story about retirees, either voluntarily or forcibly leaving their jobs, who had been planning to find new work or who needed to find work to supplement minimal pensions or social security, who were being forced to abandon the search. In the time of Facebook and Silicon mirages, of twenty-year old youngsters, wrapped in their own hipness, stumbling over gold mines, baby boomers in the vestiges of the twin-pinchers of a post-recession economy that hammered home values, savings, and pensions and a jobless recovery offering minimum wages as security guards and Walmart greeters, are finding themselves undervalued and unsatisfied with diminished job prospects.
There are countless stories I could now tell of friends and comrades caught in the clutches of late-in-life job searches. Some are looking for new meaning and passion along with ways to still use valuable experience and robust energies, and either through delusion or pride are unwilling to confront the rampant age discrimination coupled with tighter budgets in both businesses and nonprofits that are turning their backs on them. Some of the most productive navigators working with Obamacare recruitment are men and women who have been forced by the economy to abandon their retirements and re-enter the workforce. Many more are still looking.
It’s easy to observe the problem, but where is the anger? Some experts speaking to the New York Times think that a “silver revolution” is inevitably coming, because the preconditions seem everywhere.
The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College reported in 2013 that more than half of working-age households faced a deteriorating standard of living in retirement. A Pew Research Center survey published in 2012 found that the percentage of people ages 55 to 64 who doubt that they will have enough to live on during retirement rose to 39 percent in 2012 from 26 percent in 2009. And the number of seniors experiencing hunger rose 200 percent between 2001 and 2011, according to a reportby the Meals on Wheels Research Foundation. Pervasive biases against older employees should radicalize seniors across the political spectrum, said Mr. Roscigno, an expert on workplace discrimination. “We live in a society consumed and obsessed by freshness and youth,” said Mr. Roscigno. “This can and does culminate in discrimination in hiring, in firing and in general harassment.” When aging workers lose their jobs, he noted, they find it far more difficult than younger colleagues to find re-employment. The number of age discrimination cases filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission increased by more than 50 percent from 1999 to 2013.
The Times article talked nostalgically about the Grey Panthers and the work of the labor-backed National Council of Senior Citizens, that had its moments, but never challenged the AARP for a mass membership despite the hopes of union leaders. The AARP is too often just dismissed as a sleeping giant with some chops in the policy game but identity confusion between its income stream and its action output.
The takeaway from the article was that seniors were ready and willing but that they were fumbling around over tactics that would be both comfortable and effective. I’m not sure if that is really the issue. Reading these pieces, it was hard to miss the fact that it seems like there was a huge constituency waiting for an organization that spoke to them about this time and their current circumstances.
These sixties-era-seniors, veterans of great social change over the last 50 years, may also not be ready yet to admit that their legacy is historic inequality, a tattered social services safety net, historically weakened unions, polarized politics, vestiges of war throughout the globe, cities still wrecked by deindustrialization and the mortgage crises, and other mega-issues where they thought, and in some cases still think, they have solutions to summon up the energy and enthusiasm for a last great fight for themselves. Too many of the sixties-era seniors may still not see themselves as old at all or old enough to make age itself and its issues the cause of their remaining time.
Once they (we!) do, perhaps then comes the deluge?