This week, Mark Miller, journalist, author and editor, wrote a wonderful column Journalist’s web video project documents over-50 joblessness about Over Fifty and Out of Work on his site, RetirementRevised. Thank you, Mark!
But we don’t regard our work as a thankless task.
Over the past 12 months, Sam Newman, project videographer and fellow editor, and I have conducted video interviews with Americans who are 50-plus and jobless in 10 states (New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Nevada, California and West Virginia), as well as in Washington, D.C. Soon, we will be traveling to South Carolina, Louisiana and Oregon. When we finish our last couple of trips, we will have completed over 100 in-depth interviews.
It has been an amazing and rewarding journey.
Our interviewees are remarkable.
They eloquently and poetically describe how their lives have been shaped by the past 50 years of seismic social and economic change in the United States. They are boomers, and they have lived through the Sixties, Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the decline of American manufacturing, Reaganomics, corporate mergers and restructurings, downsizing, outsourcing, 9/11 and globalization. Sometimes, they are funny when they tell their stories. Sometimes, they cry when they talk about how unemployment has hurt them and their families.
Mostly, though, our interviewees are determined, resilient and courageous.
Unemployment at the age of 50-plus is a financial catastrophe that is difficult to overcome. It also creates an upheaval in our interviewees’ expectations about the future and the country: Will I ever be able to work again? How can I manage without health insurance? Can I still retire someday? Will Social Security and Medicare be there when I am eligible for benefits? Will my children and other young people be able to find jobs? Can the United States regain its economic competitiveness? Does the American Dream still exist?
We continue to stay in touch with our interviewees and follow the paths their lives are now taking. A handful have returned to full-time jobs. Most of them, however, are struggling to make a living from two or three part-time jobs at a level of compensation that is much lower than they received previously. They want to return to work; they want jobs; they do not want to sit home and collect unemployment.
They have reminded Sam and me that we are all part of an evolving American community. We are honored to have met them and documented their stories.