Underemployment: A no-win struggle for older workers

Last Thursday, Over 50 and Out of Work testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee hearing Stories from the Kitchen Table:  How Middle Class Families are Struggling to Make Ends Meet.  Unfortunately, we were only asked one question, because we had so much more information on unemployment and underemployment that we were prepared to contribute to the hearing.

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse asked what people do when their unemployment benefits run out.  In particular, he inquired about one of our R.I. interviewees, George Dys.  We responded that George is now scraping by on part-time jobs and continuing to deplete his dwindling savings.  George’s underemployed status is common, both for our interviewees and nationwide.

In May, the national unemployment rate was 9.1 percent, but the underemployment rate was 15.8 percent.  Of course, underemployment is tricky to measure, so the actual rate may be much higher.

At the present time, about 40 of our 100 interviewees are severely underemployed.  Their unemployment benefits have expired, and they are now cobbling together a living from one or more part-time jobs.  They continue to deplete any remaining savings they may have, including tapping into retirement funds; they sell their assets such as cars, furniture or collectibles, and they rely on family and friends to help them out when they are in dire need.  Several of our interviewees have also been forced to use food banks for the first time in their lives.

Recently, the New York Times addressed the topic of underemployment in Job Jugglers, on the Tightrope, but the story featured only younger workers, four 20-somethings.  Underemployment is even more challenging and frightening for older workers because they usually have higher living expenses, including mortgage payments, and families to support as well.

Elizabeth Zima, 57, of Calistoga, Calif., a former writer and editor on healthcare issues, now works part-time at three wineries.  She earns 50 percent of her former salary, no longer has health insurance, owes outstanding medical bills and cannot afford to pay her taxes.

Before the Great Recession, Bill Davis, 59, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., earned a six-figure income as an executive recruiter in the IT industry.   Now, he drives a cab at night. Demand for taxi service during the tourist season in Myrtle Beach allows him to make a meager living, but once the weather cools, his customers depart.  Fortunately, he is a veteran, so he has access to medical care, but he cannot afford to pay for his son to go to college.

Joel Nitzberg, 57, of Somerville, Mass., lost his job when the community education department he headed was eliminated to slash costs at a local college.  Joel found full-time work as a consultant, but his position does not offer benefits and ends on July 30.  When he and his wife were both out of work last summer, they experienced the terrifying feeling of living without the safety net of health insurance.  Happily, his wife was able to find a new full-time job in her field that provides health care coverage for the couple once again.

The Times story emphasized the new skills that the younger workers are gaining in their part-time jobs — multitasking, hyper-organization and enhanced knowledge of technology.

For our older interviewees, the underemployment they are enduring does not seem to be building their knowledge or skills.  Their part-time jobs do not help them regain their financial footing or build up their savings and financial security for their later years.

They struggle on, because as they say, what else can we do?



Calvin said:

I'm 48 years old and I can't find a job! I've been unemployed for over a year and I'm about to lose my home! My education and experience mean nothing to employers! I'm about to become a homeless person with no future! - posted Oct. 30, 2015

Damian said:

It's happening everywhere. Once you are hitting 40+ your in the firing line. I'm 46 and was a Senior Engineer with a Pharmaceutical Company. Let go last year but can't even get a job on a construction site. Now painting houses to make ends meat. Jobs for life are a myth. - posted Oct. 27, 2015

Patricia said:

I am responding to Cathy you posted here on February 8, 2015, you need to be able to prove if you think you have been discriminated i.e. to age, a very very difficult task, that is a given If you get an interview for something you have research and are truly interested in working for, after the initial interview, and the interviewer turns and asks you "if you have any questions"? Try this; ask "why would I not be considered for the position"? Watch carefully the interviewer and listen carefully to what is said to you. If the interviewer becomes nervous and the like, you will have had the upper hand per se in the interview and you should feel better about it. But just remember, there are no more garantees on anything anymore today. Good Luck!!!!!!! - posted FEb. 10, 2015

Cathy said:

I am 57 and working for a company I hate. I train younger employees who quickly either get promoted or leave the company to work for the competition with higher pay and better package all around. When I apply at the same competitors they seem to be turned off while reviewing my resume. I am attractive, well poised, and have tremendous experience but only list a few on my well written resume. What can I do about age discrimination? - posted Feb. 8, 2015

Marge said:

Don't feel ashamed. I am 57 and after 27 years, they told me my job was eliminated, only to find someone else is doing my job. I have been applying many places, but nothing. I worry constantly about my future. Don't give up!! Finding this blog is a good thing, I have been looking for people in similar situations. Posted: Sept.3,2014

Lori said:

I worked for a company for 30+ years. My job was eliminated. Personal constraints had kept me from continuing my education in order to remain within the area I was in. Now I cannot seem to find a position within the company that I worked for all these years. I have applied for so many positions within the company and I am never hired for any of them. I am not even considered for any of the positions that I apply for that are within my ability to do. I have the feeling no one understands. I realize this is NOT true but even applying for unemployment insurance they seem to treat me like a FOOL. I have never in my life been so ashamed. Posted: Sept.1, 2014

Dianne said:

There are no dates on these posts, so I don't know if I'm replying to a comment from a day ago, a month ago or from a year ago. For the record, I am - on 8/22/14 - replying to a comment posted by Thomas who feels that he has nothing of value to offer. Thomas, cooking, writing and playing guitar are all hugely valuable. Lots of people want to learn to play the guitar. Have you thought about offering private lessons? Youtube

Frances White said:

Hey I am 51 and do not look my age, and I essentially have the same story, I am very computer literate and have my MBA, but can't find a full time job. The only job offers I seem to get are commission related and I can't take a job that is based on commission, because i don't have anyone to help me. I am working part-time, but even in theat parttime position they won't hire me for other positions within the company saying I am to senior. LOL!. Meanwhile I work 14 hours a day bringing home less than 200 a week. They tell you to get and education, but as a black female, that doesn't hold water for me. This is for Thomas, you do not need to be a professional writer to write. Just listen to your muse write what ever story comes to mind and find an agent, all it costs you is a little time and effort.

Indian Chief said:

I have given up. Out of work 1 year and can't buy an interview for anything. A boomer from the 1950's is considered a pariah if some sort. If you want to go back to school, you will have nothing more than a piece of paper and a bill. You still won't get hired. Truth be told, NOBODY CARES!

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