A Downwardly Mobile Boomer Survives

The unemployment rate has rocketed to double digits. But older workers’ struggles in the job market are not new.

An Urban Institute study, reported here, estimated that about half of workers over age 50 left a job involuntarily at some point between 1992 and 2016 – a period that included strong economic growth and two recessions. After the workers found new employment, their households were earning just over half of what they earned in their previous jobs, researcher Richard Johnson told PBS’ NewsHour.

The baby boomers being laid off now might relate to Jaye Crist, who was featured in this NewsHour video last February when unemployment was still at record lows. He had been a manager at a national printing company for three decades – until his 2016 layoff. Through sheer determination, he found a full-time job packing and delivering printed materials to customers for a print shop in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. But his income dropped sharply.

“It’s frustrating that, in my mind, somebody who has done the things you were told as a kid you need to do – stay at a job, work, learn, be helpful, get promotions – and then you find yourself, at this point, that your career doesn’t mean [anything],” Crist said in the pre-pandemic video.

“You just do whatever you have to do to keep everything else afloat,” he said.

With the country now in a recession, I checked in with Crist to see how he’s doing. His financial situation deteriorated further after Pennsylvania shut down the economy to contain the virus. He briefly lost his three jobs – at the printing company and two part-time jobs, at a local brewery and a workout gym.

He was relieved when the printer brought him back in April from a three-week furlough after the company received a stimulus loan under the federal Paycheck Protection Program. But business is slow, and Crist worries he might lose the job again. “Knowing that you’re almost 60 years old,” he asked, “now what do you do?”

The gym is also reopening, but it’s unclear how much he can work since he used to be on the night shift and the gym will no longer be open 24 hours a day. He also returned to the brewery to handle takeout orders but it, like many eating establishments, is struggling to make it at a time of social distancing.

Prior to the pandemic, Crist had already gone through many of the financial struggles boomers are facing today. With his wife unable to work, he said he depleted his 401(k) after his 2016 layoff.  He was having difficulty keeping up his mortgage payments and paying part of his daughter’s college loans, and now it’s even harder.

He said he can’t imagine being able to retire. “I’ll be working and paying for stuff until I can’t.”Learn More

Art saying Now what?

Recession Destabilizes Boomers’ Finances

The COVID-19 recession has changed everything.

This extreme disruption in our lives is always top of mind, which was reflected in our most widely read articles so far this year, based on the blog’s traffic.

Baby boomers, their retirement plans having been deeply affected by the Great Recession, are once again reassessing their finances. One popular article explained that the boomers who were in their early to late 50s during the previous recession lost about 3 percent of their total wealth at the time. This put their retirement planning at a distinct disadvantage compared with earlier generations in their 50s, whose wealth, rather than shrinking, grew 3 percent to 8 percent. The current recession is the second major setback in just over a decade.

Prior to the pandemic, readers liked articles about making careful retirement plans. Post-pandemic, the most popular article was about laid-off boomers desperate for income who may have to start their Social Security prematurely. The retirement benefits can be claimed as early as age 62, but doing so locks in the smallest possible monthly Social Security check – for life.

Even before Millennials were hit by the recession, they were already farther behind older generational groups when they were the same age. One article explained that the typical Millennial had just $12,000 in wealth. They are “the only generation to have fallen further behind” during the pre-pandemic recovery, the Federal Reserve said.

Here are a dozen of this blog’s most popular articles for the first half of 2020. They are grouped into three topics: COVID-19 and Your Finances, Retirement Planning, and Retirement Uncertainties.

COVID-19 and Your Finances:

Social Security Tapped More in Downturn

Lost Wealth Today vs the Great Recession

Boomers Facing Tough Financial DecisionsLearn More

Crowd of people

Readers Lament Decline in Boomer Health

The share of people in their late 50s with the second most severe form of obesity has tripled since the early 1990s. This grim fact, featured in a recent Squared Away article, clarifies COVID-19’s danger to older Americans.

The article, “Our Parents Were Healthier at Ages 54-60,” summarized research establishing that baby boomers are less healthy than their parents’ generation due to several conditions related to obesity, including diabetes, pain levels, and difficulty performing daily activities. The poorest Americans’ health deteriorated the fastest – and COVID-19 is preying on them.

“This decline in markers of metabolic health seems to correlate with increased vulnerability to the pandemic,” wrote one reader, Dan O’Brien, who was among several who commented on recent health-related blogs.

That’s what happened during the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009. Hospitalizations – and possibly death rates – were tied to obesity in adults with multiple health conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“The vast majority of [COVID-19 patients] who reach the ICU suffer from comorbidities. My takeaway is that metabolic dysfunction is tied to immune-system failure in ways we don’t yet understand,” O’Brien said.

Another reader, Lorraine Porto, advocated a simple way for people to keep their weight in check: walk. An elderly woman she knows “walked miles every week.” Porto believes this healthy habit saved the woman’s life when she broke her hip in her 80s and was “walking around, sprightly as ever, less than two months later.” The woman lived into her 90s, Porto said.

A second health-related blog popular with readers looked at the unexpected costs of treating medical conditions that become more common in old age.

Older workers and retirees who try to anticipate their future medical expenses might feel a bit like they’re throwing a dart at a dartboard. The researchers did the work for them in a study described in the blog, “Unexpected Retirement Costs Can be Big.” …Learn More

Fintech artwork

Fintech Lenders Discriminate Less

Do online financial companies give minorities a fair shake?

Researchers and consumers have found some early evidence that this fast-growing segment of the financial industry – Fintech – may be mitigating, though not eliminating, the legacy of discrimination that has been widely documented in the brick-and-mortar mortgage industry.

First came bank redlining, a conceptual line lenders drew around black neighborhoods. In a famous study, banks rejected black loan applicants more often than white borrowers with the same incomes. Lenders have also been found to discriminate by charging black borrowers higher interest rates for their mortgages.

Discrimination took a different form when subprime lending invaded the mortgage market prior to the 2008 financial collapse. Commissions to subprime loan brokers gave them an incentive to make as many loans as possible, and the high-interest-rate mortgages more often found their way into minority communities, even to the high-income people who could have qualified for regular mortgages.

But Fintech’s algorithms have improved the dynamics of lending for minority borrowers. The danger now is that the progress they have seen might be reversed as the pandemic batters the mortgage industry and loans dry up.

A November study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found that Fintech lenders have made more loans in under-served minority and rural neighborhoods. The theory behind this is that old-style bankers discriminated against minorities because they met loan applicants face-to-face. Fintech’s computer algorithms, the argument goes, are blind to race, and loan approvals are more anchored in a borrower’s creditworthiness.

Economists at the University of California at Berkeley found more mixed but still promising results. FinTech lenders “do not discriminate at all in the decision to reject or accept a minority loan application,” the researchers concluded from an analysis of lending patterns.

But the other common form of discrimination against minority borrowers does exist: they are charged interest rates that are about one-tenth of a percentage point more than the rates charged to white borrowers. These higher rates cost African-American and Hispanic borrowers an estimated $765 million in extra interest annually. …Learn More

Art of a thumbs up and heart

1st Quarter: Our Most Popular Blogs

People born smack in the middle of the baby boom wave, including many of this blog’s readers, are now in their mid-60s and have retired – or, at least, they were planning to retire before the stock market crashed.

Some of your favorite articles in the first quarter, based on the blog’s traffic, were about the nuts-and-bolts of retirement, including one that ranked retiree living standards by state.

The 10 most popular blogs listed below ran before the coronavirus changed our lives but they may still hold kernels of wisdom that will be useful in these trying times.

For example, one article reported on the $38 million in misplaced retirement funds from prior employers. If you think you have a long-lost retirement plan, search the unclaimed property account in the state where you worked.

Or, if you’d already committed to retiring before the market drop, it’s become more important to fashion a satisfying lifestyle. One blog explores how to prepare for retirement.

Our readers’ most popular blogs in the first quarter were:

Have You Misplaced a Retirement Plan?

Can’t Afford to Retire? Not all Your Fault

Mapping Out a Fulfilling Retirement

Most Older Americans Age in their HomesLearn More

A sculpture looking shameful

Money Shame Surfaces in Tough Times

It’s easy to overlook the emotions that swirl around money. But they often come to the surface when our financial security is thrown into question.

The spread of the coronavirus has kicked Americans’ financial anxieties into high gear, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found last week. More than half of the workers who were surveyed fear they will lose income when their workplace is closed or their hours are reduced.

Reduced income is hitting low-wage, part-time and hourly workers hardest and fastest. But even among people with more financial resources, more than half are concerned they’ll have to dip into retirement savings or college funds.

Even when financial problems stem from events that are outside of an individual’s control, a feeling of shame can take over. Shame is the thread running through three TED videos that explore the emotions around money.

With economists increasingly predicting a recession in the wake of the virus, it might be useful to keep in mind the insights and coping mechanisms discussed by the speakers in these videos.

Shame is that “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed … based on our bank account balances, our debts, our homes, or our job titles,” Tammy Lally explains in the first video.

Lally, a financial coach, believes her brother was driven to suicide by his shame about his bankruptcy filing earlier that same day. She said she was judgmental at first but, after encountering financial problems of her own, came to a better understanding of the intense pressures her brother was feeling.

Lally’s and her brother’s shame around money was rooted in their childhood, she said: the siblings learned from their parents that money would make them happy. “We internalized that into the money belief that our self-worth was equal to our net worth.”

As the coronavirus pummels the stock market and slows the economy, many workers are feeling under enormous financial pressures. But Thasunda Duckett, who runs the consumer division of a major bank, said in a second video that people only compound the pressures when they blame themselves.

“We have a fraught relationship with money, because it comes with judgment,” she said.

Duckett and Lally both recommend one thing people can do if they’re experiencing money issues. To overcome some of the shame and anxiety requires letting the burden go by talking openly with others about money – you will quickly learn that you are not alone.

“Money can no longer be a taboo topic,” Lally said.

In 2007, a year before the financial crisis hit, Elizabeth White, a Harvard Business School graduate and one-time international consultant, was tumbling into “economic freefall.” …Learn More

Romance Frauds are Hiding in Plain Sight

Romance scammers follow a predictable script.

Find a willing person on social media or a dating website. Use the information she’s posted online to befriend her and then win her affection. Ask her for a loan for an urgent matter and promise to pay it back. After the money is wired, ply the victim for more money while promising to meet in person – a plan that never seems to pan out.

Despite the flashing red lights that say “fraud,” romance scams are becoming increasingly profitable. Last year, its victims were cheated out of more than $200 million. This is a 40 percent increase over 2018 and exceeds the losses for any other type of scam, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Middle-aged Americans, who are very active online, are the most common victims – and they’re often women. But the typical loss for someone over 70 is $10,000 – the most for any age group. Some people lose much more.

The number of romance lossesOne victim, a 76-year-old widow from Rhode Island, met her alleged perpetrator while playing Words with Friends, an online word puzzle. Over a two-year period, she gave him $660,000, which required her to refinance her home, sell property in Massachusetts, and withdraw money from her bank account.

A Texan in her 50s met a man on Facebook who claimed to be a friend of a friend. He persuaded her to turn over $2 million, which she doled out slowly over time as he promised to pay her back, told her he loved her, and arranged for them to meet. They never did.

“He was saying all the right things,” she told the FBI. “I felt there was a real connection there.” …Learn More