MONEY AND WORK

News from the Progressive Review, providing alternative news and comment for over four decades.

December 27, 2008

OLDER WORKERS HIT HARD BY CRASH

Unsilent Generation - For older workers, this recession is unprecedented. Last month, 298,000 Americans ages 65 and older were unemployed, 50 percent more than when the recession began a year ago.

During previous downturns, relatively few older Americans were counted as unemployed. Although many lost their jobs, they generally retired instead of looking for work. During the severe 1981-82 recession, seniors' unemployment rate grew by just 0.8 percentage points - only about one-fourth the increase for prime-age workers (25 to 54).

Today, however, seniors are nearly as likely as their juniors to join unemployment lines, because pink-slipped seniors can no longer afford to put their feet up. Shrinking Social Security benefits, traditional pension plans, and 401(k) balances combine with soaring health care costs to force them to keep pounding the pavement.

Workers who must start collecting Social Security today at age 65, rather than at the normal retirement age of 66, will permanently forfeit 7 percent of their monthly benefit. Premiums for Medicare Part B, which pays for doctor visits, eat up another 9 percent of Social Security benefits - triple the benefit hit in 1982.

Rising medical expenses, which consume 15 percent of older people's budgets, can also jinx retirement. And only one in three large private employers offers retiree health benefits to supplement Medicare, compared with two in three in the 1980s. Meanwhile, Medicare's new drug benefit has barely dented seniors'out-of-pocket spending.

Whipsawed by these trends, it's no surprise that three in 10 Americans ages 65 to 69 were working or job-hunting in 2007, up from two in 10 in 1982. Paychecks provided nearly one-fifth of this group's income in 2006.

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