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?



Bill said:

The biggest puzzlement to me...and I see little commentary on the site questing such, is: With the sheer of individuals posting on this one site alone; sharing the same common experience (i.e., discrimination due to age), why then, is it allowed to continue, and when then, is nothing being done about it. Tuned in to a world news broadcast this morning in regard to jobs creation and the "new" college graduate. The GOOD news is that the present time (Spring - 2016), is quite possibly the best time in recent history for a new graduate to land a job and begin a career. The BAD news is...those graduating at a time during the great recession...or those that lost a job during that time are destine to struggle. The report stated "employers are looking for NEW graduates....those without the scars of the recession." Can you imagine...those without the scars that were no fault of our own, and in most cases the result of poor business decisions based on greed and selfishness. HOW can this be allowed ??? Please folks...comment...the time is past for expressing our common hurt...let's face it, in virtually all cases we could exchange names on these posts and they would fit all. We need to talk substance...we are all smart...let us think, talk, and act.

B said:

I am to be 54 in August. Single, never married , and no children.....so I too never once used the system for any social services. I have no family left and my folks had medical issues that drained them financially so there was no inheritance. I have been self employed since I was 25 as a professional artist. Never made much though so my only retirement would be social security and if I wait till 70 to take it I will get $1080/month. My business just died 2 years ago and I moved in with a senior friend who needed help. She sadly passed away a few months ago. Her family graciously let me stay in her home a few months and I must be out by 5/15. No one and I mean no one will hire me to even clean a toilet! I have been self employed so long that I have zero job skills and I have to compete with teenagers for a minimum wage job. So in a week I will be living in my truck and if I this old lady doesn't like it there is always a way out that no one here has even talked about. Suicide! Sweet!

Bill said:

What better time for us to unite than in the midst of the most confused election year in US history. Why not organize, make a trip to Washington, D.C. and show the world just how America has wasted her most precious resource...the human kind. Bet we get some action as a result... -posted May 6, 2016

Alice giang said:

I wish i can create an organization to put all the over 50 unemployed to work. it is so heart breaking to see this. - posted May 5, 2016

Cindy said:

I can totally relate to all of your comments regarding unemployed after the age of 50 (or even prior to the age of 50). My heart goes out to all of you. I truly understand how everyone feels. I've been a Widow for over 20 years and I was able to adequately provide for myself after my husband passed away because I've always been truly blessed and fortunate to have good jobs. We didn't have any children (not by choice) and, therefore, I am self-sufficient without any help from anyone else. I thank God every day ... In over 20 years, I've never missed or sent in a late mortgage payment. I have always paid my bills on time (no late payments). I have an outstanding credit score. However, the only way I've been able to survive the last 3+ years is by living off of my retirement savings. I've worked extremely hard for 40 years ... I always "planned" for retirement (beyond the age of 66 ... God willing) and never expected the bottom to drop out from under me (so to speak). I'm educated and I've had the pleasure of working for Attorneys, Accountants, Executives in Real Estate Development, the President/CEO, Vice Presidents, Project Engineers and Field Superintendents in the Commercial Construction (Design/Build) industry and health care professionals, including the President/CEO and Vice President/CFO, both managing partners, as well as Obstetricians and Gynecologists, in an Obstetrical and Gynecological medical practice. Throughout my entire life, I've always had a positive attitude, an upbeat personality (I'm outgoing and friendly ... a "people person" (so to speak) and I've always been a dedicated, honest, loyal and hard working employee. I always "exceeded" my employers' expectations. On average, I worked 10-15 hours a day. Unfortunately, at the age of 59, I lost my 12+ year position as an Executive Assistant/Credentialing Specialist at an Obstetrical and Gynecological medical practice. I single-handedly (without any assistance) managed the day-to-day administrative operations of the entire practice (i.e. I worked for 9 offices, 17-19 physicians, I reported to two managing partners, the President/CEO and the Vice President/CFO, both Obstetricians and Gynecologists, as well as nurse practitioners, registered nurses, certified medical assistants, psychologists, a registered dietician, massage therapists, directors, managers, staff, et al.) My last day of full-time employment was on January 4, 2013. Since January of 2013, I've applied for well over 700 positions. In May of 2015, I began working part-time for a sales and marketing company (weekends only) and promoting well-known products, services, alcoholic beverages, etc. in retail stores (i.e. Binny's Beverage Depot, Jewel-Osco, Mariano's Fresh Market, Target, Wal-Mart, et al.) However, the work is not "guaranteed." Let me explain ... On a daily basis, I receive E-Mail notifications informing me of local (and not so local) events in IL. After I apply for these upcoming events, unless they "select" me to work these specific events that I've applied for, there is no "guarantee" that I will work 1, 2 or 3 days that weekend. From May of 2015 through December of 2015, I was selected to work between 40 and 50 different events. However, since January of 2016, I've only worked approximately 7 or 8 events. I'm extremely tenacious ... I refuse to give up ... I've been looking for work (day and night) for 3+ years. In fact, I've literally stayed up for nearly 48 to 60 hours straight (on some days/nights) looking for employment. Trust me ... I can totally relate to your feelings of anger, depression, frustration, hopelessness, being unfocused/unmotivated, completely stressed out, worthlessness, et al. (an endless list to describe our feelings). In February of 2016, a staffing agency placed me on a 4-1/2 week assignment at an on-site residential management company. I felt so alive and useful ... I felt as though I was able to "give back" to the community once again. I looked forward to waking up each morning and going to work ... I truly had a "purpose." The residents loved me and I had hoped that the management company would hire me full-time. On my last day at their office, the staff decorated my desk with balloons, cards and streamers. Everyone thanked me for assisting them and told me what a great job I had done. They went on to tell me how I was a "ray of sunshine" in their office (with a positive attitude) and how much I would be missed. Since that assignment, I've applied for numerous on-line posted employment opportunities, I've followed up with staffing agencies, Lake County IL Workforce Development, the College of Lake County (Employment Assistance), et al. Unfortunately, even though I've received some "positive" feedback from my on-line employment applications, I still am significantly "underemployed." The part-time position I do have (weekends only) is the type of job that a person would have to "supplement" their full-time income. I'm lucky if my part-time position would pay for one or two bills (if that). Trust me when I tell you ... I've done everything I can possibly think of to find employment (i.e. contract, temporary, temp-to-hire or direct hire positions). I've attended job search meetings, presentations and seminars ... I've met with Academic Advisors and Career/Employment Specialists ... I'm registered with at least 20 staffing agencies who have not been able to find me adequate employment opportunities, which is based on my professional background, extensive experience and credentials. I've attended several Job Fairs and, unfortunately, I never heard from any of the featured employers at these events. I'm constantly networking; however, nothing "positive" has come from all of my networking efforts. In February of 2014, I was the recipient of a Federal WIA Grant ... In order to make myself more "marketable" (so to speak), I used the funds I received to take various computer courses (February of 2014 through May of 2014) . However, that hasn't helped to improve my chances of finding adequate employment. When I attempt to follow-up or follow-through with staffing agencies, etc., I "rarely" receive a response from anyone. I always make it a point to return all phone calls I receive in a timely manner. Even after returning phone calls and responding to E-Mail messages, I still don't hear from these prospective employers and/or recruiters/staffing consultants and/or staffing agencies. I "rarely" receive responses to the on-line applications I've submitted or I receive "rejection" E-Mail notifications that the position has either been filled or they've decided to pursue "other candidates" for that specific posted position. The bottom line is ... I, as well as all of you, should NOT be "unemployed." I'm healthy and able to work for many more years to come (God willing). In my heart (where it truly counts), I know that I'm not useless or worthless; I still have so much to offer these potential employers. However, how can I ever "prove" myself to anyone if they refuse to hire me? A "piece of paper" with all of your past accomplishments doesn't prove anything ... In order to get to know someone fairly well, you need to personally meet that individual. I've always felt that "personality/chemistry" is one of the key factors during the interviewing process. Trust me when I tell you ... I'm "terrified" that I could potentially lose everything I've worked for the past 40 years. My biggest fear of all is becoming homeless (God forbid). Have I missed anything the last 3+ years while searching for employment? I thought I've done everything humanly possible to find work. Above all, I do NOT want to go on welfare ... I'm capable of working ... I have numerous skills, knowledge and extensive experience. There should be NO REASON WHATSOEVER that I should be unemployed!!! I enthusiastically welcome any and all suggestions you may have ... Thank you very much for listening and understanding my dilemma! Above all, I wish all of you the best of luck with your job search. God bless all of you ... I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. My Best Always... - posted May 5, 2016

Viola said:

So I always google over 50 out of work and see this site. I avoid it because one is always told to think positive and put out good vibes, which I do. But I am 55 and have been looking for a job for 3 years now after being forced to resign because of a serial corporate bully. The companies do nothing about that in the USA. I am angry lately because I spent my life paying my taxes, all my bills, contributing to schools and park that I never used since I don't have kids. Being single I have paid double for everything married people do. I am born in this country. I have no criminal records. No parking violations no "disabilities" like so many who claim them and use their cash for booze and drugs. So I am pissed also because I am healthy and take care of myself and I am not a drain on the system like those who abuse themselves and expect the state to pick up the tab. I started my own small business because I am resourceful, smart and everything I do is a success in my life - except trying to get hired in this country over 50. Everyone wants my experience but won't pay for it. They like my resume and then I assume Google my name a find out my age. I have been interviewing for three years. Never in my life did I not get the job on any interview until I turned 50. So yeah I am pissed. God forbid you insult anyone about anything but being openly ageist no problem. Just don't talk about it and maybe it will go away. And am I sure the good Old US of A will come knocking on my door for their share of taxes on my little enterprise. Taxes that can go to help all those poor drunk disabled people (sorry to real disabilities) I'm talking about the ones on Intervention...and those who come over here to the land of opportunity. How about we take care of the people who have contributed to society their whole lives. So I will continue eating sh##t at some of the most demoralizing jobs in my life...oh and I had to move in with a relative and leave my home state...did I mention I was my high school Valedictorian? Or that I graduated from one of the most prestigious colleges in the nation Magna Cum Laude? No big deal. I also have taught myself web design, SEO marketing and I am a freaking whiz. So screw you private sector. Hire your idiotic millennials for 21k a year. See how profitable they makes your company while they're goofing around on Tinder all day. Yeah. I'm pissed and I think we all should be. Don't fall into depression. Don't give them that satisfaction. This country is going to hell anyway. That's why Trump is so popular. Okay, rant done. Probably wont be back here for a while. Gotta think positive, right? - posted May 4 2016

dragonfly said:

I wish those of us who live in the same area could and would form a support group - ongoing as it would be. I am basically homeless after a very long and arduous search. I have lost everything, year by year, and even relationship with my sons (mother and previous military spouse). I don't have a spouse to lean on. Just having a friend in the same boat is better than alone, especially when one was always on the middle class side, who is there now to talk to. This is a journey I feel I was not made for. I've always liked the line from Touched By an Angel that said, we are spiritual beings on a human journey. It's hard to do when your spirit is crushed, but I still keep thinking on that. - posted May 4, 2016

Chuck said:

Mary, I want to personally acknowledge your message because I am struggling with depression over this predicament. And for those ready to offer me a wise saying or something---please don't. I just need to process and make sense of what is happening to me right now . God help us. - posted May 3, 2016

Pamela said:

A ray of hope to all of you.....I got let go at 70 after 33 years on the job....they found out they could get two 25 year olds for 1/2 of my salary...yea for them. I go so mad I went on line and applied to the first job I saw.....yes, not the same salary but the company offered full benefits and was exactly what I wanted part time 8am to 1pm.....and the salary was very good.....got hired and left my old job on a Friday and started my new job on Monday. Still here three years later....have gotten some great raises and was offered full time that I turned down. There are companies that do not discriminate agewise...I am a testament to that....keep trying.... - posted April 30, 2016

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