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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.”

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3 Responses to A Downwardly Mobile Boomer Survives

  1. Dave G. says:

    Jaye should consider getting an insurance license. The industry needs quality people and is hiring. He can take an immersion course to sit for the state exam. He may be able to get an insurance company to even “sponsor” him and pay the cost. Many independent property/casualty agencies need help. Allstate is advertising in my area for agents. If he is really brave, he can strike out on his own. Another growth area is Medicare, particularly Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans, to market those you need a life and health insurance license.

  2. Elle says:

    That was incredibly sad, he seems like a good guy average Joe.

    Working in HR, I saw the significant waves of middle-manager/age 50+ layoffs in the early 1990s. I started saving for retirement with the idea that corporate America was done with you by your 50s.

    I’m almost 60 and still working, but my husband was laid off 10 years ago and started his own business, but has recently become totally disabled with regard to the work he was doing.

    So, I’m in a better position than some, but still worried about getting to the finish line somehow, without going broke.

  3. Excellent piece. It captures the issues faced by so many middle class, middle aged professionals. When they are RIFfed, they can not find comparable jobs. They and their partners face downward mobility in terms of status and income. Many see this as (almost) a traumatic loss.

    It is important to provide financial advice to these individuals and families. They can take steps to improve their situation.

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