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?



mica said:

I need to find a job soon, my husband think im to old (52) and I feel abused and miss treated by him, i need to work and be free one day. - posted May 21, 2016

Bill said:

I recently came across an article that summarizes our situation from top to bottom...bottom to top; here is the link: http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/2012/07/longterm-unemployment-burtless. The article is somewhat long and a bit technical, but everyone will gain understanding from reading it. My question remains...the problems and solutions have been identified...why is it not being addressed?

L. B. said:

I tend to agree. I have been living a hellish life the past 3 years after being wiped out in the recession between 2010-13. I am not about to move into a POS travel trailer on a property for a $500.00 a month work exchange, house/pet sitting, housework etc. From a talented interior designer and home staging assistant to losing it all, work, beautiful home, life savings trying to hang on, to living in a fucking trailer with no AC and working like a domestic slave at almost age 57. If it weren't for my 2 cats I'd be attaching a hose to my tailpipe and drifting off to carbon monoxide. It is NOT going to get better for many of us, only worse. Aging, illness and poverty, what a great finale to this one act play. From a bright, vivacious, highly creative, highly literate, optimistic women to wishing for a heart attack every day. The really sad thing is suicide is such a taboo subject and so you don;t even have anyone you can confide in that would support your choice to be done, and it is a choice based not so much on depression as hard core reality. How much suffering is one supposed to accept before they finally just say "I'm done."

Lisa said:

I too am in the same postion. Myself and another woman, same 55+ age, were let go due to we made too much money. lol. That of course is not the excuse they used. I now am searching daily for employment. There is always hope. Keep the faith. I have been out of work for 9 months now. Praying daily for me and everyone like me. - posted May 17, 2016

kelly said:

So easy to say...go to school and then get a job! How the F do I go to school when I am living in my car! 2.5 years out of work! No family, no children...just a single 53 year old lady who because I have no dependents nor am I disabled...and not quite a senior yet...no help...society just doesn't give a crap and why should it....I am just a worthless old lady with no family, kids, disability...should be shot dead for wasting space on this earth!

mary said:

I agree, I am ready to just end it all. Yesterday I interviewed for a place that tutors children. The place was riddled with 18, 20 somethings. They were gung ho when they saw the resume, however, the usual reply, someone else was more qualified. How could that be, I have tutored and hold a 30 day teaching credential?

Remona said:

I am in college right now as a 52 year old. I am studying Veterinary Technology for Equine Nursing. I won't have any trouble getting a job. I wish the best for those of you that are so pissed off. I understand where you are coming from. THAT is why I went back to school. - posted May 12, 2016

Sue said:

Dear B, Please do not follow through on your post. Your life is precious. If you reach out, there is help and support for you. You are not alone. 1 (800) 273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Let us know if there is anything we can do to help. The Over 50 and Out of Work Team

Debashis-India said:

I think that all of us should try for on-line jobs of English content writing, proof reading, correction jobs etc from authentic websites like Upwork or Freelancer job sites, and never ever think of Suicide , since it's your Life and not of your Employers who are selfish to the extreme God will bless all of us. 100%. - posted May 10, 2016

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