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February 04, 2013 11:03 AM Near the End of the Road—Or Rope

By Ed Kilgore

Probably like a lot of people in my sub-generation, I read Catherine Rampell’s New York Times piece over the weekend on the plight of those nearing but not yet at retirement age during the Great Recession with a conflicted sense of anger and relief: anger at yet another development showing that the stereotype of the selfish, pampered Baby Boomers was not entirely accurate, and relief that someone was paying public attention to the situation of people with neither employment prospects nor retirement resources.

These Americans in their 50s and early 60s — those near retirement age who do not yet have access to Medicare and Social Security — have lost the most earnings power of any age group, with their household incomes 10 percent below what they made when the recovery began three years ago, according to Sentier Research, a data analysis company.
Their retirement savings and home values fell sharply at the worst possible time: just before they needed to cash out. They are supporting both aged parents and unemployed young-adult children, earning them the inauspicious nickname “Generation Squeeze.”
New research suggests that they may die sooner, because their health, income security and mental well-being were battered by recession at a crucial time in their lives. A recent study by economists at Wellesley College found that people who lost their jobs in the few years before becoming eligible for Social Security lost up to three years from their life expectancy, largely because they no longer had access to affordable health care.

So at a time in life when the chronic health conditions most likely to cause loss of access to private health insurance tend to become apparent, employer-based health insurance is disappearing, and even those with the right to continue such coverage for a short while via COBRA are realizing they can’t afford the premiums. The Obamacare on the horizon only offers a lifeline to the minimum extent it guarantees access; “affordability” is another question.

Yeah, a lot of Baby Boomers may be depressed because their current state in life so vastly falls short of the expectations formed early in life or in the Long Boom of the late 1990s. A lot of them are in far better shape than the very poor regardless of generation. But I cannot tell you how often I hear people at or near my age quite seriously say “I guess I’ll work til I drop dead, if I’m lucky enough to have a job.” Hoping to have the opportunity to work oneself to death is not exactly the American Dream in action.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • zandru on February 04, 2013 11:21 AM:

    Thanks for this one, Mr. Kilgore!

    The "Baby Boomers" (what a loathsome and grotesque name) are probably the most hated "generation" in American history. When the WWII folks designated themselves as "The Greatest Generation" (ever!!! yeah!), it was tacitly taken that the obvious corollary was that their children were "The Worst Generation."

    In spite of all evidence to the contrary.

  • Robert on February 04, 2013 11:30 AM:

    Thanks for even mentioning this, Ed...No one talks about this...there are those of us who put long years at some of the jobs that tear down and destroy a body over time...coal mining, is but one of those jobs where the benefits and pay are adequate but one thing goes wrong and bingo...out the door to face the world with little or nothing in reserve...I only worked for two companies who offered any retirement...the first one was "absorbed" by bankruptcy, and the current one was taken by Wall Street...now, at 60, it is "rock and hardplace" for us...

  • c u n d gulag on February 04, 2013 11:32 AM:

    At this point in my life - I'll be 55 in a few weeks - and I would relish having a job that I could die in.

    I haven't been able to find a job in almost 3 years, and I don't see any prospects for one coming anytime soon.
    I've worked from part-time jobs when I was 14, to full-time ones until I was 52 years old, and the longest I was ever out of work, was about a month.

    I live in a suburb of NY, where, since IBM downsized 20 years ago, pretty much the only jobs left are in retail, or in the medical field.

    I'm too handicapped by a crippled ankle, bad hip, and arthritic back and neck to work in retail, and I don't have any experience in the medical field. And even if I did, it would probably involve typing, and I have terrible arthritis in my hands - particularly my thumbs - so I probably would be too slow to hold down a typing job.

    Besides, no one's hiring us over-50's.
    And, in some repects, I can understand that, since, if I was a 30 year-old Manager, I'm not sure I'd want a person working for me that had more years of experience, than I was alive.

    I'm trying to get disability, since that's about my only hope, and am trying to find a doctor who'll vouch for how handicapped I am.
    The last Orthopedic Surgeon I went to said he wouldn't do it, because, and I quote, "Sure, you can't stand for long, and can hardly walk or sit, but you can still talk."
    And when I told him, "Well, I've applied for hundreds of talking jobs, like CSR, and no one's hired me.
    He said, "That's not the governents problem, or mine. You can still work if you find the right job."
    I felt like asking him, "Well, since you can't operate on my ankle and fix it, and won't amputate it, maybe you can hack off my tongue, you feckin' quack?!?!" But, I kept my mouth shut, went home, and cried.

    I'd rather work, but no one will hire me. And believe me, I've applies for hundreds and hundreds of jobs in the past 3+ years.

    I almost got a job as a Customer Service and Teller Trainer at a local bank 4 years ago, but, surprise, surprise, after being unemployed for a while, I had a bad credit rating, and couldn't be considered for the job.
    Now, mind you, I was going to be a Trainer in some training rooms somewhere - not handling people's money. But, NOOOOOOOOO!

    After my Mom passes away, I have no earthly clue what I'll do.
    So, pardon me if I hope I don't live too much longer. I i just need/want to outlive her.

    After she goes, I frankly won't give a shit - no one in this country gives a shit about other people anymore.

    And that, frankly, shows where the Conservatives in this country have won, in their war on the middle class.

    Now, everyone's too worried about looking out for them and theirs, and can't afford to give a shit about others.

    End of long, and, frankly, pathetic, word-turd rant.

  • Virgil Bierschwale on February 04, 2013 11:39 AM:

    Thank you for speaking up for those that do not have a voice.

    I'm a former software type that crashed and burned when this nightmare reared its ugly head.

    I say crash and burned because I was making $113,000.00 in 2002 and I made $8,001.00 in 2012 and I owe the IRS, Child Support and Student Loans nearly $140,000.00 that I want to pay.

    Like the others, I have nowhere to turn and you know what?

    If I could find a way to buy a simple home for $79,000.00 and keep the utilities on, I would continue my work at Keep America At Work so that I can spit in the face of the bastards that did this to us, and I say bastards that did it to us because after ten years of trying to figure out what happened, I just added a video to our Significant Milestones page that proves that this nightmare was being built by complicit business and political leaders back in 1988.

    Perhaps even before.

  • Robert on February 04, 2013 11:52 AM:

    Oh, for the defined-benefit retirement of the Greatest Generation!

    Remember when we sung "Hope I Die Before I get Old"?

    When I started working, my health care premium was $35/month. Today it is $450/mo. But then the Boomer in Chief just sent us on our way to Single-Payer.

  • Mimikatz on February 04, 2013 12:01 PM:

    The Boomers who were so insufferable and felt so entitled were the ones in the first half of the generation, born from 1945 to 1956. They are now mostly retired. From there on the feeling began to build that the first wave Boomers had taken everything and the second wave missed the boat. (Remember the song "Born Too Late in '58?). It built through Gen X.

    It. Is hard to believe that the deficit scolds in DC keep talking about raising the Medicare age when what they should be doing is lowering it, raising the SS age and/or cutting benefits when they should be raising them for people at the lower end. They are truly out of touch with people out in the country.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 04, 2013 12:02 PM:

    This kind of thing actually makes me cringe, especially because I've seen co-workers who were a year or two out from retirement get sacked--either with a forced-retirement or the plain ol' boot--only to be replaced by some young whippersnappers who could do twice the work at half the price.

    My dad was also in a similarly situation. But fortunately the goobers--he trained them, btw--who tried to let him go didn't go about the process properly and he was able to successfully file an age discrimination lawsuit. So he was lucky in that regard...

    I'm actually surprised that I don't here about more age discrimination claims since the recession started. I'm in my twenties, and even I can tell that something is amiss here. Maybe not legally, but there are trends. And I'm no labor or civil rights attorney, so what do I know...

  • c u n d gulag on February 04, 2013 12:30 PM:

    Virgil Bierschwale,
    It started long, long before '88.

    Right after Civil Rights Acts passed, and as women were clammoring for their ERA, and the kids were protesting the Vietnam War, the powers-that-be saw what a solid middle class had brought to America - a citizenry that could look beyond themselves and their own families concerns, and could take up the causes of others, who were not as well off, or didn't have many of the same rights.

    My guess, is, that the backlash against the middle class started sometime in the mid to late '60's.

    Nixon was the first point-man, but it was Reagan who really started getting the job of moving the money upwards, instead of down, or to the sides.
    And George W. Bush finished the job with a flourish of naked greed combined with sheer incompetence.

    Here are a couple of articles by the great Thom Hartmann, who'll explain this much better than I'd ever be able to:

    http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/item/459-thom-hartmann-comes-to-the-defense-of-the-embattled-and-shrinking-middle-class

    http://www.thomhartmann.com/forum/2011/08/middle-class-dead

  • Jack on February 04, 2013 12:31 PM:

    just wish that I could get a bad job (any job) to work till death.

  • RobZ on February 04, 2013 12:58 PM:

    "The Boomers who were so insufferable and felt so entitled were the ones in the first half of the generation, born from 1945 to 1956. They are now mostly retired."

    Though I'm sure you will still find them quite insufferable, boomers born in 1947 are just now reaching retirement age.


  • Anonymous on February 04, 2013 1:45 PM:

    Thanks, RobZ. My hubby ('54) and I ('53) are not insufferable nor entitled (we will be 59 and 60 this year), nor are we anywhere close to retiring. We do have friends our age who are "retired" but worked in the public sector (teachers, firefighters), but I wouldn't begrudge them their retirements after dealing with overfull classrooms, emergencies, etc. And a few of them have gone on to other work (hence the quotes around the word retired). We feel lucky because even though my hubby was laid off his job over a year ago he was able to find another pretty quickly - he's lucky in that his particular IT field is "old technology" and is still being used but is not known by the younger crowd. But we did have to move (a new 30-yr mortgage!) and I had to give up my work and have had no luck finding anything new - I believe part is due to my age. I just pray that his job is safe until he's 65 so he can get on Medicare. And he's making the same money (not adjusted for inflation) he did in 1998, and the jobs I've been applying for pay less to much less to what I made then (same fields). A friend of mine is 61 and has many health issues and tried to get on disability, but wasn't accepted, and so continues to work until she turns 62 this summer and can collect SS. Thankfully her husband is a veteran so they have Tri-Care. I feel for cund gulag's situation - so very sorry! Here we are in the richest country on earth - and the wealth gap and high unemployment - it's not right. And some jerks in DC think we should raise the retirement and Medicare ages!

    But I also feel sorry for the younger folk for lack of jobs or underemployment. I have two kids and a few nieces and nephews in their 20s-early 30s who are struggling. They're not earning income or much income (some still living at home) and not paying much, if any, taxes. How are they to live up to their potential?

  • Vinh An Nguyen on February 04, 2013 2:27 PM:

    Hoping to have the opportunity to work oneself to death is not exactly the American Dream in action.

    But hoping that it happens to others is the Republican version of the American Dream.

  • gretchen on February 04, 2013 2:30 PM:

    That's what makes me nuts about people like Simpson and Bowles, guys who have worked at a desk all their lives, self-righteously saying "we must raise the retirement age". Who is going to hire somebody in their late 60's, with health problems, when they can hire a lively young person who is desperate for a job? And if the 68-year old is a carpenter, a roofer, a waitress, a nurse, are employers lining up to hire them? Not to mention that there would be more jobs for the young people if we 60-somethings weren't still shuffling off to work to make up for the lost home equity we were planning for.

  • Robert the Second on February 04, 2013 2:37 PM:

    "The Boomers who were so insufferable and felt so entitled were the ones in the first half of the generation, born from 1945 to 1956. They are now mostly retired."

    The Boomer retirement just got going dear one. I remember fondly being called "insufferable" when I joined my generation to demand equal education and employment rights for women, reproductive choice, the desegregation of schools, and the right to clean air and water. Those were the days of Duck and Cover, and the Draft. The nearness of annihilation put a certain urgency to getting organized, and effective. We didn't wait around looking for permission to act. It was a powerful wave of change.

  • Farsider on February 04, 2013 4:04 PM:


    I think Mimikatz is on to something with the comments about the first half of the boomers having a much different experience as my group (boomers born in early 60's).

    My biggest issue with the boomer mentality, especially being from the South, is how strongly they bought into the low tax/no tax siren song of Reagan. Really, truly believing they can get the government services of their forefathers without having to actually fund it.

  • Vicente Fox on February 04, 2013 5:29 PM:

    Really, truly believing they can get the government services of their forefathers without having to actually fund it.

    Is that why they allowed their payroll taxes to be raised in 1983, creating the SS "trust fund" that was going to pay for their retirement?

  • Keith M Ellis on February 04, 2013 6:40 PM:

    "My biggest issue with the boomer mentality, especially being from the South, is how strongly they bought into the low tax/no tax siren song of Reagan."

    This is more to the point, I think. I'm in that cohort that falls right into the transition from boomers to X, mid-sixties kids, and I don't have a lot of experience, actually, with fifties cohort who make up the bulk of the boomers and the late sixties, hippy, antiwar crowd. Well, I've always been a little perturbed that so many of that fabled progressive crowd became conservative as they aged.

    But my main scorn is reserved for my own cohort and slightly younger, the folk that came of age during the Reagan era. Research shows that one's first presidential election as an adult is a very strong predictor of lifelong affiliation — and my cohort is obnoxiously conservative. They're the true Reagan generation, epitomizing the privileged, white greed of the eighties and the associated hardening of the "what's good for Wall Street is what's good for America" and "what poor people? screw the poor!" attitude of contemporary conservatism. I can more easily understand the old-fashioned cultural conservatism of my parent's generation than I can the heartless, privileged libertarian-inflected conservatism of the Reagan generation.

    The boomers, the people who are retired and retiring now, grew up in a world of unionized labor, jobs with good medical benefits, pensions — conservative or liberal, they benefited from a strong labor movement. My mother's husband watches Fox News all day long but was in a union his entire working life. These folk are more than a little clueless and often hateful in their bigotries, they're the Archie Bunkers, they're dinosaurs but they're comprehensible.

    The Reagan generation, though, are the folk who enthusiastically destroyed labor and have tirelessly worked to dismantle the safety net, privatize social security, and deregulate banking. I shed no tears for those in this group who are now reaping what they sowed.