December 3, 2019
Workers, Machines and Constant Change
Anyone who drives on the nation’s toll roads has used a job-eliminating device: electronic tollgates.
Unemployment due to new technologies – and workers’ resistance to them – are as old as the industrial revolution. In the early 1900s, glassblowers were replaced by mechanized bottle makers. Today, autoworkers are no longer necessary to bolt car parts to carriages – robots do it with speed and precision. Toll takers are the latest disappearing breed.
Workers who lose their jobs to progress face painful transitions, and pessimists throughout history have warned about technologies increasingly rendering human effort obsolete. Indeed, jobs can seem to vanish overnight after an entire industry or occupation adopts a laborsaving machine, presenting displaced individuals with difficult choices. They must either invest in a new skill or move into a low-skill, lower-paying job.
But in the long arc of history, technology is continually creating new jobs to replace the old ones.
“The cycle of job destruction and creation has produced a labor force where, over the long run, workers have generally found jobs – albeit jobs that largely did not exist 100 years ago,” concludes the Center for Retirement Research in the first of three reports on technology’s impact on older workers for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
The changing nature of work encourages new forms of growth by expanding the economic pie. For example, about a third of U.S. workers used to be on the farm before being largely replaced by agricultural machinery like combines and threshers, the report said. But during and after World War II, new technologies adopted by industry supplied manufacturing and office jobs to the farmers who had migrated to the cities to work. Wages rose and the economy grew rapidly during this period of unprecedented abundance.
Another way that technology helps the economy is by making goods cheaper to produce and buy, freeing up demand for other products. For example, Americans spend 15 percent of their budgets on food – less than half of what they spent in 1900 before farms became fully mechanized. More money for cell phones. …Learn More
June 25, 2019
Moms Help Jobless Sons and Daughters
“Families often serve as the first line of defense against adverse events,” a RAND study starts out.
In this case, the researchers are talking about a mother who protects her unemployed adult child by providing financial assistance, a request that’s not easy for a mother to resist.
RAND researchers Kathryn Edwards and Jeffrey Wenger find that women of all ages are very likely to help out and “significantly alter their behavior” when a son or daughter loses a job.
How much mothers’ sacrifices affect their standard of living are beyond the scope of this study. But although unemployment is at historic lows today, when a child does lose a job, a mother who provides assistance is potentially exposing herself and her husband to financial problems down the road.
The types of the assistance the women in the study provided varied for different groups. The youngest group, working-age mothers between 35 and 62, were the most willing to help an unemployed child, though women of all ages did to some extent.
Mothers employed full-time, and in some cases their partners or husbands, worked more to earn additional money, an option largely closed off to the retired women. Another way working mothers adjusted was to reduce their contributions to employer retirement funds. All of the women also cut their own food budgets for a year or more.
This study is a conservative take on their assistance, because it doesn’t include an indirect, but often costly, source of support that is an obvious solution for unemployed offspring: moving back home. Moving back in will, at minimum, increase their parents’ utility and grocery bills. …Learn More
March 19, 2019
Boomers Cope with Real Financial Pain
We really appreciate readers opening up about their personal experiences in the comments section at the end of each blog. It’s important to stop occasionally and listen to what they have to say.
Aging readers reacted strongly to blog posts in recent weeks about two of the biggest challenges they face: spiraling prescription drug costs and a so-so job market for older workers who aren’t ready to retire.
Here are summaries of their comments on each article:
High Drug Prices Erode Part D Coverage
Readers expressed anger about rising prescription drug prices in response to a blog featuring a diabetic in Arizona who, despite having a Medicare Part D plan, spends thousands of dollars a year for her insulin. She resorts occasionally to buying surplus supplies on eBay from private individuals.
Dr. Edward Hoffer in Boston responded that Americans pay five times more for Lantus than diabetics in the rest of the world. “The same is true for most brand name drugs and most medical devices. It is an embarrassment that we pay double per capita what comparable western countries pay for health care with worse national health statistics,” he said.
Bill MacDonald shared his story in a Tweet and follow-up messages. This North Carolina retiree on a fixed income has paid $6,000 annually out-of-pocket – a third of his income – for two drugs he’s taken since an automobile accident caused medical problems and depression that led to other issues. He spends $3,200 for one of the drugs, a cholesterol medication called Repatha – that’s his tab after his insurance company pays for most of it. (Last year, Amgen slashed Repatha’s price from more than $10,000 per year to $5,850, which MacDonald hopes will reduce this expense.)
Steve B. was thrilled about a new generic on the market to replace his Rapaflo, a prostate medication. Then he learned that the generic is not much of a bargain either.
Careers Become Dicey after Age 50 …Learn More
February 26, 2019
Baby Boomer Labor Force Rebounds
One way baby boomers adjust to longer lifespans and inadequate retirement savings is to continue working. There’s just one problem: it can be more difficult for some people in their 50s and 60s to get or hold on to a job.
But things are improving. The job market is on a tear – 300,000 people were hired in January alone – and baby boomers are jumping back in. A single statistic illustrates this: a bump up in their labor force participation that resumes a long-term trend of rising participation since the 1980s.
In January, 65.1 percent of Americans between ages 55 and 64 were in the labor force, up smartly from 63.9 percent in 2015. This has put a halt to a downturn that began after the 2008-2009 recession, which pushed many boomers out of the labor force. The labor force is made up of people who are employed or looking for work.
The recent gains don’t seem transitory either. According to a 2024 projection by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the older labor force will continue to grow. The biggest change will be among the oldest populations: a 4.5 percent increase in the number of 65- to 74-year olds in the labor force, and a 6.4 percent increase over age 75. …Learn More
November 13, 2018
Millennial Cities and Those Left Behind
Sumat Lam, a recent college graduate, was skeptical when his Silicon Valley employer transferred him to Austin, Texas. What he found was a high-tech mecca that defies the stereotypes of 10-gallon hats and Southern drawls.
Google, Apple and Amazon have established outposts in the “Silicon Hills” of Texas’ Hill Country. The young workers moving there are “bringing in their culture and influences from Boston and New York,” Lam told VOA News.
Taylor Hardy lives in Dayton, Ohio, but she might as well be living on a different planet.
This young nursing assistant can barely eke out a living. Her plight is shared by too many others in this former industrial hub that has been in a downward spiral that accelerated after plant closings by National Cash Register and General Motors during the last recession. The loss of high-quality blue-collar jobs contributes to Dayton’s 35 percent poverty rate – nearly three times the national rate.
Hardy, a single mother, and the boyfriend who lives with her, earn a total of $27,000 a year – she has $5 in her bank account. “I work all these hours, and I miss all the time with my kids to make … nothing,” she said in the PBS Frontline documentary “Left Behind America.”
The contrasting fortunes in these two cities – Austin versus Dayton – are playing out around the country. Young professionals are streaming into Millennial boomtowns from San Francisco to Boston, where growth seems almost unstoppable. But outside these hot spots are struggling Midwestern and Northeastern cities that have become deserts, devoid of opportunity for their young adult residents.
“Historically, many young American adults have left their hometowns to chase better opportunities,” said Kali McFadden, senior analyst at Magnify Money. “But not all millennials have the same work opportunities,” she said about her firm’s new city ranking of the employment available to young workers. …Learn More
September 11, 2018
Personality Influences Path to Retirement
Only about a third of the older people who are working full-time will go straight into retirement. Most take zigzag paths.
These paths include gradually reducing their hours, occasional consulting, or finding a new job or an Uber stint that is only part-time. Other people “unretire,” meaning that they retire temporarily from a full-time job only to decide to return to work for a while.
A new study finds that the paths older workers choose are influenced by their personality and by how well they’re able to hold the line against the natural cognitive decline that accompanies aging.
Researchers at RAND in the United States and a think tank in The Netherlands uncovered interesting connections between retirement and cognitive acuity and, separately, and a variety of personality traits. To do this, they followed older Americans’ work and retirement decisions over 14 years through a survey, which also administered a personality and a cognition test.
Here’s what they found:
- Cognitive ability. The people in the study who had higher levels of what’s known as fluid cognitive function – the ability to recall things, learn fast, and think on one’s feet – are much more likely to follow the paths of either working full-time or part-time past age 70.
The probable reason is simply that more job options are available to people with higher cognitive ability – whether fluidity or sheer intelligence – so they have an easier time remaining in the labor force even though they’re getting older. …
February 1, 2018
My Hillbilly Roots
J.D. Vance’s rural Kentucky roots, described in his book, “Hillbilly Elegy,” differ from my father’s family in southern Indiana in one important way. Vance’s violent, angry mother was a substance abuser with a trail of failed relationships in her wake. Vance carries the childhood scars. My dad’s family was a bunch of kind, reticent, teetotaling farmers.
Alvin and Lena Belle Blanton and sons Gerald and Leland, 1966.
But the similarities between our families struck me too – Vance called his grandfather Blanton “Papaw,” which I’d always thought was unique to my own Papaw Blanton but, I now know, is an endearment. And believe me, the corn fields and hills of southern Indiana and contiguous Kentucky are more southern than Midwestern. My grandma’s fried chicken was heaven.
The backdrop for Vance’s hillbilly stories emerges front and center in my own take on family: I look at rural poverty through a socioeconomic lens.
Vance, an acclaimed writer and Silicon Valley investment banker, “got out” via the Marine Corps, Ohio State University and Yale Law School. “To move up,” he writes, “was to move on.” With sheer determination – supported by his tough, caring Mamaw – he overcame long odds, childhood stress-eating, and psychological retreat from a conflict-filled home. His Yale scholarship wasn’t earned on grades but because “I was one of the poorest kids in the school.”
To be clear, I do not see “getting out” as pejorative. Nor does “getting out” mean getting away from family. Rural people relocate in search of better job opportunities than what is available in depressed areas with eerily quiet “downtowns” of struggling or abandoned establishments pushed out of town by big-box retailers like WalMart and fast-food joints. Getting out is code for earning a decent living, buying a modest house, having health insurance, and being able to retire. In short, capturing the American Dream.
In my family, the strategy of getting out worked for some but not for others. Please bear with me through my generational story.
My late father, Leland Blanton, left home – Jasonville, Indiana, population 2,147 – so that my two brothers and I didn’t have to. His father – Papaw – owned a small-town gas station and, due to childhood polio, walked with a cane. A midwife helped my father’s true-grit mother deliver him into a three-room farmhouse with an outhouse. Twenty years later, his ticket out was a high test score that paved the way to becoming a hotshot pilot in the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s and 1960s. Greenland, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Greece, Germany, Bangkok, Saigon, Turkey – he flew to every corner of the globe. We all lived nearly three years outside Tokyo. …Learn More