I came across this story and it took my breath away. Not because any of this is particularly shocking, given the general information about how hard it has been for the long-term unemployed to get work, and the battle over extensions of unemployment benefits. What made me unravel was the prospect that for some of this demographic — and the Baby Boomer bulge falls squarely in here — being seen as that 47% — you know, the leeches on the government that Mittens gleefully cooed about with disdain in the now-infamous undercover video.
What the long-term unemployed — the seasoned workers in their 50s — have been told is that if you just go back to school and brush up your skills, you’re going to be part of the recovery. Well, if you listen to these headhunters, it doesn’t matter how many hours in the gym you put in to stay fit, or how many skills-building classes you take, or how much hair dye/Grecian formula or even Botox you purchase, you all are screwed. (Raw Story featuring a report from PBS Newshour):
PAUL SOLMAN: Economist Alicia Munnell says the human resource managers were skeptical of workers like those in Bridgeport.
ALICIA MUNNELL: They said they worried about their ability to learn new things, about their physical stamina and basically how long are they going to stay. And, so, it’s — when you looked at the whole picture of their assessment of older workers, you really wouldn’t go out of your way to hire one…We have these age discrimination laws that may have a perverse effect, in the sense that you get — you’re really locked in once you hire an older worker. You can’t fire one, so why hire one to begin with?
NICK CORCODILOS, AsktheHeadHunter.com: The employer’s just trying to figure out who can actually get the job done. So, there are some older workers — probably a lot — who simply don’t have the skills or the wherewithal to do a certain kind of job. There, it’s up to the worker to go out and bring themselves up to speed and do it in an aggressive way, do it as quickly as possible.
PAUL SOLMAN: Moreover, from the firm’s perspective, says Alicia Munnell, you will probably get more bang for your buck with a younger hire.
ALICIA MUNNELL: People’s salaries go up every year for cost of living and some promotions and productivity growth. And they get more expensive on the health care front just because they have more ailments. And most of the studies show that people’s abilities peak around age 40 and then sort of decline gently thereafter. So, you have this mismatch of sort of rise in compensation, steady at best productivity, and it makes older people not look like such a good deal.
But think about it — I doubt that Munnell’s observations are incorrect; but that doesn’t mean that the over-55s are unemployable. In fact let’s say she’s 100% spot-on. What does this mean for our economy — to essentially have business saying that hiring older workers who have been hit hard on job hunts during this recession — simply are behind the 8-ball in favor of more inexperienced (presumably healthier) workers? A fair number of employers are apparently ready to get behind younger workers (some fall into that familiar demo that has an underwhelming work ethic and unrealistic ideas about advancement — the stereotype goes both ways) wholeheartedly.
And if older workers are kicked to the curb, that means a helluva lot of people on unemployment, out of benefits, on disability, or worse. I guess it’s no surprise to find out this:
The report, also from PBS Newshour (via Raw Story), should alarm people.
RAY SUAREZ: The analysis looked at data compiled over a little more than a decade, a period ending in 2010 that included the financial crisis and the great recession. In 2010, there were more suicides in the U.S., 38,000-plus, than there were fatal motor vehicle accidents.
Most disturbing, that spike among the middle-aged, a 28 percent rise overall, a 40 percent jump among white Americans, and among men in their 50s, suicides increased by more than 48 percent. Guns remained the leading method used in all suicides, followed by poisoning, overdoses and suffocation.
Some perspective on all this from Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC.
DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: We don’t know what specifically is causing it, but the trend has been consistent, and if anything our numbers would underestimate the gravity of the problem.
And, of course, even one death from suicide is a terrible tragedy and many of them are preventable. We know that in times of financial stress, there’s generally an increase in suicides. We also know that this is a generation that grew up at a time when they expected more than some have been able to achieve in their lives, and also that they’re stressed with what their kids are going through and what their parents are going through, so in some ways, the sandwiched generation.
Noted in the piece is the fact that more people die from prescription opiate abuse/accidental OD than from heroin and cocaine combined. That’s a lot of self-medicating. If this is the generation dealing with parents headed into senility, and have boomerang kids, it can’t help the situation to find out that you are also unhireable no matter what you do from the point-of-view of headhunters. Every seasoned worker needs to breathe a sigh of relief if they have landed a job, particularly if it doesn’t involve a pay cut and gives you decent benefits.
But what about these people who have dropped out of the job-hunting market out of frustration and despair? I’m sure no politicians want to address the reality that a significant chunk of Americans will not return to their former prosperity, even if they’ve prepared themselves for 21st century jobs.