Read our November Stay Thirsty column while you wait for election results

Time Favors Younger Workers

For the past two and one-half years, Sam Newman, filmmaker, and I have been interviewing men and women over the age of 50 who lost their jobs in the Great Recession. Our work culminated in the documentary Set for Life, which follows three Baby Boomers as they seek reemployment after losing their jobs in the economic downturn.

Now that the economy seems to be recovering, albeit slowly and unevenly, it is easy to forget or minimize the pain that unemployment wreaked on older workers and their families. Since 2007, older workers have tried to survive in an economy that shed jobs, decimated savings and erased the equity they had accumulated in their homes over time. Also, of course, they lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs. In sum, they faced the economic equivalent of a perfect storm that they are still trying to weather.

“For people in their 50s, who lose their jobs, the consequences are probably going to last for the rest of their lives,” said Richard W. Johnson, director of the retirement policy program at the nonpartisan Urban Institute.

The harmful effects of the Great Recession continue to drag on, especially for Americans who are nearing the traditional retirement age of 65. No other age group has seen its income drop as sharply post-recession. Even younger workers, who have also suffered greatly in the recession’s aftermath, have not suffered income declines as large as older workers. Between June 2009, when the recession officially ended, and 2012, the median annual income of all householders age 55 to 64 decreased from $61,716 to $55,748, a decline of close to 10 percent. In comparison, the median yearly income of younger householders, ages 25 to 34, declined from $54,520 to $49,659 or just under 9 percent.

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