Over 50 Testifying before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions


Over 50 and Out of Work has just testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Our testimony consisted of a minute of introduction, followed by a three and a half minute video clip (below), and a few minutes of discussion. We also submitted longer, written testimony, which is linked to at the end of this post.

Here’s the video we showed:

And here’s what we said:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member and members of the committee for giving us the opportunity to talk about Over 50 and Out of Work at this morning’s hearing.”

“For the past 16 months, filmmaker Sam Newman and I have traveled across the country using video to chronicle the stories of unemployed older Americans, almost all of them middle class. We have conducted 100 interviews with individuals who are currently jobless, including steelworkers, bankers, IT project managers, autoworkers, carpenters, engineers, fishermen and office workers. Their three- to seven-minute videos can be seen on our website, but for today’s hearing, we prepared a short video that includes 21 of our interviewees and highlights many of the issues revealed by our multimedia documentary project.”

“Let’s take a look at the video now” (http://vimeo.com/25488585).

“Before I continue my oral testimony, which is an abbreviated version of our submitted written testimony, I want to clarify that our interviewees were not pre-screened or pre-selected. Their powerful and moving eloquence about their own life and experiences is unrehearsed and unscripted.”

“We focused the video you just watched on many of the issues that have emerged out of our multimedia documentary project: job loss and the erosion of job security, financial hardship, strained marriages and family relationships, foreclosure, lack of health insurance, dependence on children or on one’s parents to help defray mortgage and living expenses and the inability to pay for children’s college education.”

“The job search results of our 100 interviewees mirrors the results of an ongoing national unemployment survey that is being conducted by the center for workforce development at Rutgers University. Only seven out of our 100 interviewees have found full-time jobs at salaries comparable to what they earned previously. Most of our interviewees are severely underemployed, struggling to make ends meet, and approximately one-third are still without any job at all.”

“Overall, our project dispels the myth that unemployed older workers are not trying to find jobs and prefer to rely on unemployment insurance to survive. They prove to be persistent and resilient, but thwarted by the current dearth of available jobs.”

“But the most powerful theme that emerges from our documentary project is the shock that older middle class Americans experience when they realize that they are no longer “set for life.” The collapse of the housing and financial markets often eroded the value of their homes and savings even before they faced the pain and dislocation of losing their jobs.”

“Now, they are struggling to get back to work, trying to reinvent themselves and compete for jobs in a depressed labor market while facing the double hurdles of age discrimination and a bias against the long-term unemployed. They are recalibrating their expectations downward, both for their own futures and for the futures of their children and grandchildren.”

“They are fearful that they will not be able to hang onto their middle class status, despite their desire and determination to return to work, and afraid that the American dream, which they worked hard to achieve, is slipping away both for themselves and for their families.”

 

 

The hearing was covered by ABC and will be available online at the HELP Committee website. We hope to have video of our testimony on our site soon.

In addition to the oral testimony, we submitted a much longer written document detailing the themes and conclusions that we have uncovered over the course of this project. Below is a short summary of the written document, which can be read (or downloaded) in it’s entirety here:

Written Testimony

Appendix A

Appendix B

And here is a short summary of the written testimony:

Since February of 2010, filmmaker Samuel D. Newman and I have been traveling across the country using video to chronicle the stories of older unemployed Americans, almost all of them middle class. We conducted 100 interviews with individuals who are currently jobless, covering as broad an array of professions and occupations as possible, and we concentrated our interviews in states with the highest rates of unemployment.

Out of these video interviews, we created Over 50 and Out of Work (www.overfiftyandoutofwork.com), a multimedia documentary project. For today’s committee hearing, we prepared a short video testimonial that includes 21 of our interviewees and highlights many of the issues revealed by our project.

The most powerful theme that emerges from our project is the shock and pain that older middle class Americans experience when they realize that they are no longer “set for life.”

They are frightened and often overwhelmed by the financial setbacks and consequences they encounter as a result of job loss. Decades of structural changes in the U.S. economy, accelerated by the Great Recession, have resulted in the highest rate of unemployment among older middle class workers ever recorded.

The consequences as told by our interviewees include: the erosion of job security, discouragement in the job search process, financial hardship, strained marriages and family relationships, foreclosure, lack of health insurance, dependence on children or on parents to help defray mortgage and living expenses, and the inability to pay for children’s college education.

Economic data alone cannot convey the multigenerational pain that unemployment and its repercussions have created among older middle class Americans. Some will never recover. Many of our interviewees talk about hunkering down and getting by, rather than about anticipating better times ahead. The traditional American expectation of a better future for themselves and their families has been upended, if not reversed.

Surprisingly, despite the ongoing hardships that they encounter as a result of unemployment, our interviewees speak eloquently about their belief that we can solve the economic problems of the United States and restore the American dream for the middle class.

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