Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What about the fifty-somethings?

Better employment numbers are shining a ray of hope on our economy (and, to be sure, the Obama presidency), but it's still, pretty much, a catastrophe. You hear a lot about recent college graduates living in their parents' basements because they can't find jobs — and it's true that their lifetime earnings are likely to be considerably lower than those of their classmates who found work right away. Nevertheless, eventually they'll find jobs (albeit they still may not move out of their parents' basements.)

Romney is "not concerned about the poor," perhaps, but personally, I'm not all that concerned about the very young. The people having the hardest time finding jobs right now, and a big segment of the long-term unemployed, are workers over the age of fifty. Many of them will never work again.

Think about it. Why should an employer hire a fifty-something when there are so many younger workers available? Younger workers provide a much longer-term return on training. Employers who provide health insurance save money by avoiding those who, statistically, are more likely to get sick. Fifty-somethings who once earned decent salaries probably will find it entirely too depressing to take jobs as Wal-Mart greeters. The longer the period of unemployment, the harder it is to find a job.

So, how do the fifty-somethings survive? (Remember, thanks to New Democrat Bill Clinton, lifetime welfare payments are limited to five years.)

The permanently unemployed who are, let's say, fifty-two today can't collect Social Security for ten years — and can't collect a full benefit for fifteen years. Congress is not about to extend unemployment insurance to ten years, so we have to think about what a long-term unemployed fifty-two-year-old can do to survive the interim. Here are some possibilities:

  • Find a sympathetic doctor who will help the fifty-something get on Social Security disability. (This happens pretty frequently.)
  • Move in with and be supported by the kids, if they can afford (and tolerate) it.
  • Live on the streets.
I know that just getting more people, of whatever age, back to work is the focus right now. Just the same, I believe plans have to be made for dealing with those of late middle age who will be permanently exiled from the labor force.

No comments: