Working After 50: Assumption vs Reality
January 6, 2019 5:55 PM   Subscribe

If You’re Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t be Yours Most economic research assumes that workers choose the retirement age that best suits them. A December 2018 study from the Urban Institute and ProPublica finds that for nearly two-thirds of workers over 50, this assumption is false. The study concludes that their findings are consistent with other research that suggests many employers are reluctant to hire or retain older workers.

From the ProPublica article:

“We’ve known that some workers get a nudge from their employers to exit the work force and some get a great big kick,” said Gary Burtless, a prominent labor economist with the Brookings Institution in Washington. “What these results suggest is that a whole lot more are getting the great big kick.”

Despite the provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibiting discrimination against older workers, the Supreme Court and appellate courts are decreasing the protections by widening the exceptions to the law. The article cites an early story about IBM forcing out more than 20,000 workers over 40 in the last 5 years using layoffs, forced retirement and tactics to make working conditions untenable for the employee. IBM used a blatant euphemism, "correct seniority mix" to describe their plan.

The study concludes:
Employment becomes increasingly precarious as workers age. Slightly more than one-half of full-time, full-year workers ages 51 to 54 with a long-term employer experienced an employer-related involuntary job separation after age 50 that led to a long-term unemployment spell or that reduced weekly earnings at least 50 percent for two or more years. Many older workers experienced more than one such job separation. Factoring in workers who separated because of poor health, family caregiving responsibilities, or other personal reasons, we find that about two thirds of workers involuntarily separated from their jobs at some point after age 50. Involuntary separations were common throughout the country and affected older workers in all industries and demographic groups.
These findings are consistent with other research suggesting that many employers are reluctant to hire or retain older workers, as evidenced by the long unemployment spells that displaced older workers typically experience and the limited interest that most older job applicants attract from prospective employers. ...The share of retirees reporting they were forced to retire has been growing over the past two decades, as has the share expressing some dissatisfaction with retirement.
posted by Altomentis (128 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
 
My retirement plan currently depends on my working to the age of 70.

HELP ME.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:59 PM on January 6 [50 favorites]


I'm in my 40's. I was already stressed about this, reading these links is not helping.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:00 PM on January 6 [22 favorites]


lovely. happy f*cking new year.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 6:04 PM on January 6


I'm in my 30s, cannot get medicare until I'm 67?


Added to the reasons why employment based health insurance is a bad idea.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:05 PM on January 6 [23 favorites]


I'm in my 30s, cannot get medicare until I'm 67?

This is specifically what stresses me the most. We could sell everything and move into someone's living room, but good luck with health care.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:11 PM on January 6 [11 favorites]


>My retirement plan currently depends on my working to the age of 70.<

My math says 170 if I am lucky
posted by twidget at 6:17 PM on January 6 [15 favorites]


I was hired by my current employer when I was 48. I've been there 10 years now and haven't seen any evidence (in my group at least) that older employees get nudged or booted out.

Despite that I've never liked the job and I'd love to find one more in line with my preferred goals...but the daunting task of job hunting at my age is not one I can bring myself to seriously consider. Instead I keep telling myself I'm getting a steady paycheck (not one that allows me to save a significant amount, but I can pay my bills so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) and health benefits and I get to work from home. Still, there's not a week goes by that I don't wonder when the hammer will drop.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:19 PM on January 6 [14 favorites]


I've been considering dyeing my hair even though it's pretty good on its own. Just maybe...not good enough.
posted by rhizome at 6:22 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


As a single working parent of a disabled child on the more dependent side, who started over with nothing just before age 40, my plan is to die at work during my lunch break since there's no got damned way for me to retire.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 6:36 PM on January 6 [15 favorites]


A couple of years ago I had a job interview and the person interviewing me was probably thirty years younger. It was weird. They had no real questions to ask.

I always assumed retirement was an event. Now I’m retired. Almost seven years ago it was just “you’re not working here anymore.” This was after working there for sixteen and a half years. I did not plan this. Luckily I had resources to allow me to make the transition to not be working, though psychologically I still don’t feel retired. Maybe I need to have a retirement party. I’ll give myself a gold watch. Like everything else, employment ain’t what it used to be.

To the younger folks here, you have to plan to be permanently unemployed at some point before the magical age of 65. The age is getting younger and younger. Our economy is rapidly changing and the concept of employment is changing too. I don’t think it’s changing into anything good.

Good luck, everyone...
posted by njohnson23 at 6:39 PM on January 6 [29 favorites]


The application asked for the year he’d graduated from college.

I never thought the youthful directionlessness and poverty that kept me from getting an undergraduate degree until I was 31 could somehow work in my favor, but I good on me I guess.

If I can get insurance to pay for Botox for migraines then I will really have hacked the fucking system.
posted by jeoc at 6:45 PM on January 6 [25 favorites]


I mean, you can always lie about your age. Elide your first few jobs when making out your resume. Dye your hair instead of going grey. Don't list the year you graduated -- it's illegal for them to ask.

Yeah, it sucks that you might have to do this, but there's really nothing stopping you. Beat those fuckers at their own game.
posted by panama joe at 6:52 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


I'll turn 50 this year. (And I just got laid off, but I'm positive it's not age based - I'm a contractor, and the company I work at-not-for is having severe financial difficulties and is getting rid of almost all contractors; my manager fought hard to keep me but got turned down.)

When I was in my early 40s, I had a hard time getting job interviews. Then I got a 2-year paralegal degree. For the last couple of years, I've had an endless stream of contractor jobs thrown at me from posting my resume on Indeed and Monster. I don't have any proof, but it sure looks like staffing companies see the 2014 graduation date and think, "aha! Bright young person who will be complacent about going along with the system!"

I had one interview that stopped just shy of saying, "we want someone younger," since that would be illegal. They wanted someone to replace their retiring data person, which meant "someone likely to be working here for the next 20+ years."

I can heartily recommend, "go get a degree or certificate in something, even an online course, and put that on your resume with a recent date."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 6:57 PM on January 6 [50 favorites]


I will also say that for those who work more physically-intensive jobs, the potential for a career-ending injury seems to go way up after age 50 or so. A lot of people will do perfectly fine at that age—in fact they may be in their prime as seasoned veterans of their trade, the kind of people who younger workers look up to—until they get hurt. A lot of times it's a back injury, but it can be anything. And then, once that happens, they just never bounce back. They never fully heal, or their convalescence takes long enough that they lose their physical conditioning and can't recover it again. And then sometimes they have nowhere to go.

Take care of your body. Wear your PPE, follow safety regs. Don't be stupid. And try to give yourself an escape route—being put on desk duty is much better than losing your livelihood.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:59 PM on January 6 [22 favorites]


Elide your first few jobs when making out your resume.

I hear the current suggestion is to only show your last 10 years of employment. Because yeah there's a law, but who's willing to stake their career on it being meticulously observed?
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:09 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


I'm working on working to my full heart attack. The lottery's odds are too long.
posted by lipservant at 7:15 PM on January 6


And yet employers claim to be having difficulty filling their open reqs. Scumbags, delusional, or delusional scumbags?
posted by aramaic at 7:16 PM on January 6 [17 favorites]


I turn 55 this year and would like to stay employed for at least the next ten if it's not too much to ask.
posted by octothorpe at 7:30 PM on January 6 [9 favorites]


Add to all of this that the age for full social security retirement benefits keeps getting older.
If I were a more cynical man, I might be tempted to think that now that the baby boomers are safe...
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 7:34 PM on January 6 [7 favorites]


Yeah, there's no retirement for me. I work until I'm either dead or unable to work.
posted by ashbury at 7:45 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


A few years ago, Intel implemented Compulsory Voluntary Retirement for most of their Oregon employees over 50. There was a reasonably good voluntary retirement package offered, with a strongly implied threat of layoffs for those who did not take the package.

Their HR department’s metrics improved tremendously, but unfortunately among the “old” people who were laid off were the only ones who knew how things really worked. By a strange coincidence, Intel is now almost two generations behind in its semiconductor technology.
posted by monotreme at 7:49 PM on January 6 [53 favorites]


I saw this the other day. As someone whose company was recently bought by IBM, and is approaching 50, I can’t begin to say just how lovely this feels.
posted by jzb at 7:57 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


There is no divining the future. Equip yourself with transferable skills, preferably beginning with college. Learn to accept the least expensive thing that works while ignoring all advertising or social pressures. From your very first paycheck invest in yourself by saving and investing. Best of luck...
posted by jim in austin at 8:01 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


Jim - that is all good advice for people who are just out of college. We are people who have BEEN in the work force for 20 years and have already made choices on certain things when the economy was treating us slightly more fair, so telling us how to make purchasing and skill and career selections is really a bit late.

I suggest that you learn to read the bloody room.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:07 PM on January 6 [77 favorites]


Compulsory Voluntary Retirement

Apparently the person responsible for removing obvious Big Brother content from official company documents had already been compelled to volunteer to retire.
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:11 PM on January 6 [14 favorites]


I'd feel worse if this isn't what I've been dreading for a while.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:14 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


I suggest that you learn to read the bloody room.

I was in the workforce for almost 30 years before I could begin do anything about it, what with family, mortgages and living hand-to-mouth. But now I am now approaching 70 and may have some bit of perspective on the subject. Mine is not just advice for graduates. I believe it applies anywhere and anytime until you actually have to retire. Retirement age is not a number but when you can no longer physically or mentally work. After that, without preparation, it could be unfortunately bleak...
posted by jim in austin at 8:32 PM on January 6 [14 favorites]


I have a lot of anxiety around this because I'm 50. I've been out of work since my freelance career fizzled a couple of years ago. I have skills in demand, but not quite updated (which I'm working on now). The last actual job I had, about 8 years ago, I believe I was fired in part due to age, which is what initially put the bug in my brain. More-recent interviews have also given me the Imposter's, which adds to the fear.
posted by rhizome at 8:37 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


I left the workforce voluntarily at 49 because of stress and child rearing, mainly. I decided to go back to work in an adjacent field at 52. I took some online CV lashes to get up to speed. I had one interview from about 40 applications over a span of 18 months in my city. I finally got an offer for a staff position from a University I had previously worked at but in a new department that I was hoping to break into (genomics and epidemiology). It was scary to not hear from anyone for so long. I felt like I had totally wasted my opportunities, and very lucky to finally get something. I think universities are much more forgiving about age and family responsibility. The pay is fine but a huge perk is lots of PTO plus great insurance. Folks may want to consider universities, ymmv.
posted by waving at 8:57 PM on January 6 [9 favorites]


There is no divining the future. Equip yourself with transferable skills, preferably beginning with college. Learn to accept the least expensive thing that works while ignoring all advertising or social pressures. From your very first paycheck invest in yourself by saving and investing. Best of luck...

yeah, but when millennials decide to ignore advertising and social pressures, we're destroying institutions like toys'r'us and diamond companies

and when we accept the least expensive thing that works, like living at home, we're an ungrateful generation of parasites, so...

i guess luck is a thing we can count on? that and avocado toast.
posted by anem0ne at 8:57 PM on January 6 [25 favorites]


Can't decide if I'm more anxious that I'm in the category or that I gave this post a favorite.

I shuffled half ton of stock today. Made 20 orders and I'm fucking sore but my counterpoint was a 20 Something from Moscow. Big dude and we finally co-miserstated for like 30 seconds. I guess that's respect.

I work to live another day.

he cracked up at that.
posted by clavdivs at 9:00 PM on January 6 [5 favorites]


Their HR department’s metrics improved tremendously, but unfortunately among the “old” people who were laid off were the only ones who knew how things really worked. By a strange coincidence, Intel is now almost two generations behind in its semiconductor technology.

this is something I've noticed working in tech. for example, a lot of the folks I know working with mainframe are middle-aged. Younger folks aren't interested in mainframe and tend to move out of roles that would have them master and teach it down the line after the current mainframe folks retire. Losing that depth of experience and knowledge is horrible in the short term and catastrophic in the long term.

And looking at my coworkers who are facing down this struggle, it's really scary to see what it's done to them as people. A few individuals a while back were notoriously irritable and stingy with information, and I think it's because they were afraid that if they trained successors or disseminated their (vast) knowledge enough, they would be asked to retire and not be able to find a job anyplace else. I am sympathetic to their fear, but the toxic workplace they created was really something else. We need to serve our people better.
posted by snerson at 9:03 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


My retirement plan currently depends on my working to the age of 70.

Mine depends on me jumping off a cliff.

If I can get insurance to pay for Botox for migraines then I will really have hacked the fucking system.

I keep asking the doctor who does my scalp Botox if he can just "accidentally" slip a jab or two into my forehead while he's up there, but no go so far.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:05 PM on January 6


Don't list the year you graduated -- it's illegal for them to ask.

It's totally legal to ask and in fact it's not uncommon to require that you show that you graduated, which will show when you graduated. It's illegal to discriminate against you based on age so some employers will voluntarily restrict the question.
posted by Candleman at 9:07 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


I'm helped somewhat by not getting my degree until I was 34 which at least on paper makes me look 12 years younger than I am. Of course when I show up with my shiny bald head and white beard, the jig is up.
posted by octothorpe at 9:10 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure it is illegal to ask the date of graduation--their defense is that they're making sure you did. I ran into this on 2008 when everyone went to online applications and the third question was ALWAYS date of high school graduation, usually an even better indication of age than college.

I never got a single response (I was over 50 then) but used to amuse myself by calling out blatantly illegal ads that asked for "young, energetic" workers. I can only hope that the crowd that wrote those kinds of ads were probably in their 20s or 30s at that point and time will catch up with them.
posted by etaoin at 9:13 PM on January 6


Yeah, as someone in his mid-40s this is definitely scary as hell. I’ve been working in the same industry, a niche sector of the tech world, since I graduated college, so coming up on 24 years this year. After all of that time, just in the last year or so I’ve *finally* landed a title and role that make me feel like I’ve really made it, yet it’s hard to fully enjoy the fruit of those labors because I’m not so naive as to not realize how tenuous it all is.

I’ve seen so many people who were absolute superstars in my industry when I first started who, as they reached the twilight of their careers, started to achieve something of a reverse career trajectory, each gig slightly less prestigious than the one before. I’ve definitely seen more than one of the same type of “retirements” as described in the link, where “retirement” was clearly a euphemistic face saving term for being shown the door.

I had an job opening a few months ago, and will admit to being shocked at the number of applicants who were at or near what is typically thought of as retirement age. This was a good gig I had available, but definitely something of a mid-career position; I was really surprised at the number of people with “VP” or “President” or “Director” in their past on the resumes who were now having to apply for positions that at first glance definitely appeared to be beneath them. Like I said, it’s just so scary. When I landed my current gig I was so happy because I felt like I had finally “made it” and that from here on in I could limit my future job searches to upper level management roles. This served as a just another stark reminder than I could very well be the guy applying for the job beneath my skill level in a just a few years.
posted by The Gooch at 9:19 PM on January 6 [10 favorites]


This is a really weird article. The people interviewed all had senior managerial positions. While they experienced the same stress and heartache, the examples in this story would seem to be outliers: U.S. median income is something like $60K, yet the main interviewee is earning something like $90K, which is considered a step down from the $145K he used to make, which would have put him in the top 10% of earners in the U.S.

As a matter of course, our family does not eat out, does little travel and does not make big purchases, so that part of the article seemed a little jarring.

I'm in my late forties, and I too think a lot about what my so-called career will look like in my 50s. I was just offered a full-time job as a marketing manager at a tech company, but I negotiated them to a part-time contract for now. Having a full-time job seems too risky. Instead, I have 3 "main" clients including the tech company, plus extra recurring work. If any one client bails on me -- which happened last year -- we'll be fine. Having paid holidays would be nice, though.

I think we should all be concerned about our future employability, but I don't think we should be fearful. There's a great HBR article that talks about the need to have a "growth" mindset in order to keep developing new skills. The article's core message resonates with me: “Find your passion” could be replaced with “Develop your passion.”
posted by JamesBay at 9:33 PM on January 6 [7 favorites]


I experienced age discrimination at my last 2 jobs, the most recent job or was pretty explicit. I and lots of other older people have diverse and interesting skills and a good work ethic. We are able to learn new skills. Employers have a shortage of qualified applicants. If you think the so-called free market is efficient, you're nuts.
posted by theora55 at 9:36 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


I’m going to be 50 in a few years. I definitely saw this phenomenon a lot at my previous job. It was at a newspaper, and we all know how well they’ve fared the last ten years. Buyouts were offered to employees, targeted at the older workers. And rounds of layoffs. Many positions were just closed when people quit. Most of the co-workers in their 50s who left struggled a lot. It was hard for them to get hired on anywhere else.

It’s in the back of my mind. I know we have just under nine years left on the mortgage. If we can get the house paid off, we have breathing room. If I can stay employed and making what I’m making now until then, my 401k won’t be a world beater but it’ll be something I can at least work with a smidge. This all assumes nothing will happen that forces me to blow up my retirement accounts. Meanwhile, I watched several people retire with full pensions, fat 401k accounts and they were going to be getting SS and Medicare. I don’t begrudge them that. But pensions were frozen at that job years back (I get $115 a month when I retire, whoo!) and I don’t count on getting full SS and I also don’t count on Medicare being what it is now when it’s time to retire.

Sigh.
posted by azpenguin at 9:49 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


I was in the workforce for almost 30 years before I could begin do anything about it, what with family, mortgages and living hand-to-mouth. But now I am now approaching 70 and may have some bit of perspective on the subject.

I agree with Jim. It's never too late to learn something new. Best of all, everything is free online. And then it just takes one person that you think you can work with, and who thinks they can work with you, to chart a new course. Reinvention is key.

This is not to say anyone who has lost a job is "bad". My point is to have faith in yourself.
posted by JamesBay at 9:55 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


When my Father was in his late 50s his employer suddenly decided that his position required him to have a particular diploma (a 3-year Community College program) and his Bachelor of Science degree and 20+ years of work experience in their laboratory wasn't good enough. He was effectively demoted and not allowed to work shifts where he wasn't supervised (by someone with the "right" credentials) , which he unsurprisingly found humiliating.

Then he broke his wrist while on vacation and had to go on sick leave until he'd healed. When he came back he was offered an early retirement package. With the looming threat of mass layoffs as the reigning Conservative government "restructured" the provincial healthcare system and with his recent loss of workplace status/seniority he didn't feel like he had much choice but to take it.

I've watched older workers in my department get shuffled towards the door. I'm in my 40s now and it doesn't give me much confidence about my future employment prospects.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:57 PM on January 6 [4 favorites]


I've been considering dyeing my hair even though it's pretty good on its own.

Was just watching a documentary on the Ford Motor Company, where they would have seasonal layoffs, followed by periodic rehiring. Ford preferred younger employees, and when the rehiring days were announced, all of Detroit would run out of black hair dye.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:02 PM on January 6 [14 favorites]


I wonder how much of this is about age, and how much of this is about people who experienced work before it was this total fuck-you-over land. Like, employees over 50 know what benefits are and that they should have them and what overtime is!
posted by corb at 10:19 PM on January 6 [21 favorites]


Back in the day, I was a young pup working in Computer Graphics R&D, and yes, there was a prevalence of recent graduates in innovative areas. But there were always two, three, or four (out of fifty, say) grey-backs, that had old-school Evans and Sutherland track records, things like that. And those guys were seen as integral to a complete corporate showing, when clients came through.

But when Zuckerberg and social media and such started to make the big splash, the older guys, like myself sometimes, were asked to make themselves scarce when the funding demo tours happened.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:29 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


This is terrifying to me. I'm in my 40s and fully disabled until I receive a kidney transplant. When that happens, likely around age 50 based on the length of the list, my disabled status will drop after one year. So at age 51, after 11 years out of the workforce, and still dealing with a major medical condition that requires an employer sympathetic to my taking off for medical appointments, I'll have to find work, good work, with full medical benefits that pay for expensive anti-rejection drugs. And Medicare another 16 years away, if it exists at all.

Awesome.
posted by mochapickle at 10:32 PM on January 6 [8 favorites]


. I think universities are much more forgiving about age and family responsibility

Maybe it's different in different countries but here in Australia I'm not sure how true that is. Our university and the one I worked for previously, have both had multiple rounds of "voluntary" early retirements, followed by not so voluntary ones.

I have colleagues at another university where their department just "downsized" every woman over the age of 50 in a restructuring. (It's clearly illegal discrimination and the Union will fight it, but still...)

Most of the time it seems to be about saving money rather than anything, as the older people tend to be higher up the ladder and costing more. But the case mentioned above suggests that it's also about discrimination, because I'm pretty sure the women aren't being paid more than the same age men.
posted by lollusc at 11:12 PM on January 6 [7 favorites]


The other ugly aspect of the situation in the university sector is that when it comes to academics, I've heard deans and directors point out (truthfully) that most academics keep doing research after retirement anyway, so if you get them to take early retirement, you save their salary, but they keep working...
posted by lollusc at 11:14 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


"Why do you ask people's age in their application?" I asked the HR person.

"Oh, simple. Older people are generally more experienced and will want more pay."

That was in Europe, where saying such a thing was legal. In the US they generally aren't quite that honest.
posted by el io at 11:19 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Funny things people still believe:
"The company can't do [x], because [x] is illegal"

"I can lie about [x] because a human will be reading my responses, filtering candidates or making the decision, who would leave this important decison about (hiring, pay, jail sentences, everything) to some error prone unsupervised unvalidated algorithym."

"retirement"
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 11:40 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Don't get me wrong, when i say retirment isn't real, i don't mean people will be forced to work until they are 80. TFA is right, thats increasingly not an option. They will be forced into unemployed poverty when they are 60.... there's no reason to assume they will make it to 80.

The invisible hand tolerates no wrinkles :(
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 11:44 PM on January 6 [6 favorites]


My retirement plan currently depends on my working to the age of 70.


My retirement plan involves my dropping dead in my cubicle. If I can get them to just wall it off, then I'll save on funeral expenses, and as a boon, my material culture will be a boon to future archaeologists.

Fortunately I'm a state employee, so simply geting slower and slower until productivity drops to zero might be tolerated by my union...ah who am I kidding, its not like I'm facilities management.
posted by happyroach at 12:11 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Universal basic income and healthcare for all. I'd retire right now if those were available, and donate my skills as a programmer to an organization whose cause I believe in, and be happy as could be.

Two years ago, business was slow. Last year was even slower. I have nothing major lined up for this year. I have mountains of personal debt. No retirement to speak of.

By coincidence, the small amount in my retirement matches the largest chunks of outstanding debt. That's one fun part of this coming year. I will also be selling a beloved (if not all-that-valuable) antique to pay off the rest, in the hopes that I can then refinance this house to free my ex from the mortgage. (She gave me the house and took cash, but even though her income was negligible, the bank would not simple strike her name from the mortgage, there is not several thousand in fees in doing that).

If I cannot refinance--with my mortgage balance well below the purchase price of a porta-potty in this region, so selling and re-buying is a laughable idea--I'm selling everything and maybe I'll take up base jumping or those flying suits.

I'll suck at it, but at least the last bit of life will be exhilarating rather than what it's likely to otherwise be. At 51, there is absolutely zero chance of being hired in my field by a real company.
posted by maxwelton at 12:22 AM on January 7 [9 favorites]


In the past I was a contractor at big tech company in Silicon Valley for 9 months. During that time I became bus buddies during the commute with a moderately older guy who had been at the corporation for many years, who knew the famous cofounder, etc. We stayed in touch, and he got fired a few months after my contract ended.

Now, this guy helped clients who needed custom scripts for a variety of reasons. Because he had been at the company for so long, he had a broad fan base and provided value, as it were, to a bunch of departments as well as outside company clients that his relatively new boss didn't know about because he basically ignored/avoided my buddy until he was "reorganised" out of the company.

Few of the satisfied recipients of my buddy's talents noticed his departure from the company for awhile because he had worked on certain projects on an as-needed or sporadic basis. But about 6 months after he left, the guy's ex-boss got bombarded from all sides with requests for the guy's help with all the mostly invisible things he had been supporting for so many people over the years.

Today my buddy is doing that work again as a contractor for a third party and making much more money in the process. It worked because he was 65 and could get Medicare. This success story is limited to him, of course, but I still enjoyed hearing that his talents and value for the company were eventually acknowledged, however belatedly.

I am in my early 60s. I have one happily retired friend who is financially secure and one working friend in his 50s who is financially secure. Literally none of my other friends, who range in age from 30-somethings to 70-somethings, are financially secure. Retired, working, underemployed, self-employed, or unemployed, the vast majority of my friends who live in the SF Bay Area are just barely hanging on financially. The age when companies become less interested in hiring you has seemingly dropped lower and lower for tech companies.

I have been self-employed for a long time and, because of my age, expect to continue being self-employed until I drop dead. Whenever I visit my dad in the US, I always go to the nearby Walmart (I know, I know) and get to see a bunch of older employees forced to keep working even though they have obvious disabilities (oxygen canisters, walkers). I am happy for that they have work, because like most of us they need to work. But it also enrages me because working retail is not easy. It is a really hard job and it has got to be taking a big toll on their health.

I know that things have been fucked up throughout the ages and this is a miraculous time compared to historical norms (or so I have read), but that doesn't really make up for the shitty situations so many I know IRL and so many here on MetaFilter are experiencing. So yes, maxwalton: we need universal basic income and healthcare for all, and we need them badly.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:27 AM on January 7 [15 favorites]


I am in this boat as well. I was working for DELL for over 10 years, and eventually ran afoul of the lay-off hammer. Unfortunately I had just crossed the 50 year line. I also happened to live in an economically declining location, in the South. I was unemployed for over 13 months, and had to move 1600 miles before I was finally able to find employment. I am in IT so I had to work through two Temp Companies, as a Contractor, before I could land a full time gig. I managed to get in at the bottom rung of a Company that is glad to pay me a decent wage, for my experience. Being aware of what it is like out there (in the real world) I keep my head down, avoid Company politics, and just do my job, do it well, and do not complain. Politics and complaining are a younger mans endeavors. I managed to recover from each kick in the Teeth. Y2K Collapse, Dot.Com Collapse and the Financial & Housing Collapse. Each time I claw my way back up the pay-scale, something comes along and breaks the back of the Industry, or robs the equity out of the workplace. I am Borderline GenX and BabyBoom, so I am old enough to know I will never get SocSec Bennies, and know I will be working till I die. Thank God we're en enlightened society.
posted by CygnusXII at 2:41 AM on January 7 [10 favorites]


Stuff like this makes me nervous, as I'm pushing fifty so hard it's knocked out a load-bearing wall. Fortunately I've managed to get myself into a sector that's the kind of place where people burrow into their jobs and tend not to go anywhere until they voluntarily retire and/or die. I'm clinging onto this job with all four limbs like an angry cat for a good long while.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 3:00 AM on January 7 [6 favorites]


In 2018, I was laid off from two decent jobs I had for 12 years, and then turned 60. Panic time. Yes, I dyed my hair. Still, everyone wanted to know what year I graduated high school, or the internet job apps would not advance. I eventually got an unskilled, punch-a-clock part time job, but even that required intervention from a friend. With only a few years to go on a mortgage and an aging mother, I'm not in a position to move. This is not how I expected my life to turn out, but I'm not alone. Not at all.
posted by Miss Cellania at 3:06 AM on January 7 [5 favorites]


...And then it just takes one person that you think you can work with, and who thinks they can work with you...

Without wishing to sound too much like Eeyore about it, that's rather the point of this post, isn't it? The number of people "who think they can work with you" apparently decreases as you get older.
posted by faceplantingcheetah at 3:20 AM on January 7 [8 favorites]


First, this is a great piece of journalism and ProPublica is an excellent publication (well worth supporting). I read this, along with the IBM report, and found it both depressing and completely recognizable. I have observed (since my 30s) that most people over 50 in my industry end up not working, or are pushed out, or voluntarily step back to consulting or part time endeavors sometime before 60. This is middle to senior management. It’s partially that the work can be tiring and demanding, partially that they were highly paid and therefore targets for lay offs. One of the companies I worked for offered a generous pension and early retirement at 55, so it was a good deal for certain people (I believe the pension has since disappeared).

I’m assuming I won’t work full time after 55. This is partially a choice, I don’t think I have the energy to spend more than 20 years in corporate life, and partially just a recognition of what is likely to happen anyway. When I was in my 30s a slightly older woman told me that you can get fired from senior level jobs at any point and that she saved “all her money” to hedge against the precarious nature of her jobs. Women of course tend to get fired more often (discrimination laws aside). She’s still working, but I save as much as possible to have a cushion in case. I realize this is only possible because I am well paid.

While I’m very sympathetic to Tom Steckel, the HR manager featured in the article, I wonder why his wife didn’t go back to work earlier (she has an MBA, according to the article), and it seems like they didn’t prepare for anything like this, given he had a high income and could have substantial savings? I assume he was in a generation that expected to work until they chose to retire and did his planning along those lines. In this year 2019 at least we are now aware of the precarious nature of work.
posted by rainydayfilms at 4:02 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


> I was in the workforce for almost 30 years before I could begin do anything about it, what with family, mortgages and living hand-to-mouth. But now I am now approaching 70 and may have some bit of perspective on the subject.

I agree with Jim. It's never too late to learn something new. Best of all, everything is free online. And then it just takes one person that you think you can work with, and who thinks they can work with you, to chart a new course. Reinvention is key.


No objections there.

However, if reinvention is the key, then what is the need for the "Learn to accept the least expensive thing that works while ignoring all advertising or social pressures" chiding? This wasn't a discussion about how millennials supposedly fritter away money, after all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:41 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]


That was in Europe, where saying such a thing was legal.

I witnessed a lot of age discrimination when I attended grad school in Germany and then later worked Austria. Even being in your 30s can negatively impact your prospects. Age discrimination was very open. I was surprised to learn from a German colleague that a photo is generally submitted with the resume.

The other ugly aspect of the situation in the university sector is that when it comes to academics, I've heard deans and directors point out (truthfully) that most academics keep doing research after retirement anyway, so if you get them to take early retirement, you save their salary, but they keep working...

Yes, this is very real problem in the States, too, and on top of the fact that faculty positions are available in general, for any age group. My position is staff , so I'm not faculty but just a regular old employee. It suits me, though, and I don't miss writing grants and worrying about advancement. I am still in a position to do stimulating research and develop strategies for the projects the PI is in charge of, so it's mentally stimulating and more secure than an academic post. The woman I replaced retired at 66.
posted by waving at 5:06 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


"Once I built a railroad,
I made it run.
I made it run against time.

Once I built a railroad
and now it's gone.
Buddy, can you spare a dime"
posted by luaz at 5:10 AM on January 7 [7 favorites]


My position is staff , so I'm not faculty but just a regular old employee.

While what you call "staff" (we use that term interchangeably for faculty and non faculty) are maybe slightly more secure than faculty here, it's not by much. My institution let go 13 of our 20 non-faculty in our school alone last year during restructuring, and you can bet these were all the older people in the better paid positions. (Actually they let everyone go and made them all reapply for seven "new" positions, which were all at a lower salary level of course, so only junior people just starting out could afford the pay drop.)
posted by lollusc at 5:21 AM on January 7


I'm in the Bay Area, where we mistakenly moved after a rather typical corporate scale-down while living in Los Angeles. I was about 45 at the time. It was 2011. After being productively employed in my chosen career since the age of 25, I entered a period of semi-employment that lasts to this day and have had one "normal-ish" job that I have considered successful. I'm no genius, and have enough self-reflection to understand my mistakes along the way, but I have long considered this area the worst when it comes to the age metric, and its not a huge secret.

I will turn 52 this year and have been unemployed for 6 months now (again) - I am even having a hard time getting call backs for "backup" work (food markets, etc) and chronic depression has impacted my ability to look for work. We exhausted my retirement last year as my wife works 40+ hours a week for a job that makes her less than 50k while we live in the most expensive county in the country (she is in health care, taking care of very difficult rich clients and works at a company that cant even provide a basic affordable health plan). Sorry, off the rails there...

Anyway, its all true, and if it weren't for my 10 year old, who we somehow manage to insulate from most (but not all) of this, I would have punched my own ticket a while ago.

I'm planning to throw myself at the Warren campaign this year, at least to keep busy, but the last year has drained my patience and hope pretty severely.
posted by BigBrooklyn at 5:49 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


I just turned 50.

Thank you for the low-level anxiety attack I expect to have all day at my low-paying technical support job with no signs of being able to move to any other part of the company. I also just got (with the blessings of my mother-in-law) money to get a technical certification.

I never got a college degree - I had a breakdown at the end of my sophomore year and never went back - but I had ten years in a technical role at a large bank, until they laid a bunch of us off in 2010; I've been scraping by since. I used to be pulling down enough to have a very comfortable life. Now I sometimes need to wonder if I'll have enough to buy the medicines I need.

This is not a fun time to be alive in America.
posted by mephron at 6:12 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]


I'm 55 now, and I actually changed jobs without too much difficulty in 2017, but this job hasn't turned out the way I had hoped and I am looking again, but dreading my prospects. Nothing keeps me awake at night more than thinking about the next 10-15 years. I have some health issues that don't interfere too much with things now but are likely to catch up with me hard over that time, and I do not honestly believe that I will live to retirement age, but need to keep plugging away until I do actually drop dead at my cubicle. At the moment, I am mostly afraid that the Trump Recession is looming very large on the horizon and may put the kibosh on everything. I spent three years out of work in the last recession and we burned through most of our savings and lost our house; I don't know if we'd make it through another deep downturn even if we were younger.
posted by briank at 6:36 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


This isn't a brag because I don't understand it myself, but am constantly told I look ten+ years younger than my actual age and in many ways professionally this is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in that the people that interview me treat me like I am young and fresh and eager to learn (despite my wear and tear on the inside) and will give me a job with good pay and benefits, but they also treat me like a greenhorn despite my decade of experience in my field simply because I look younger than most of them. It's infuriating because giving up the detriments of one means jeopardizing the benefits of the other.

But you know I plan on riding this out until I am dust.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:37 AM on January 7 [7 favorites]


I also know exactly where people 50+ can work for a decent wage without being forced into retirement and that is apparently Louisville, KY/Cincinnati so I'll just go there when I am too old to cut it elsewhere.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:44 AM on January 7


However, if reinvention is the key, then what is the need for the "Learn to accept the least expensive thing that works while ignoring all advertising or social pressures" chiding? This wasn't a discussion about how millennials supposedly fritter away money, after all.

I was pissing away money left and right from the early 70's onward on crap that inevitably proved worthless. Our economy is driven to some extent by the frivolous and worthless and they can be difficult to avoid. So, I suggest limiting the damage by using the cheapest thing that works and continuing to use it until it breaks. I feel it is never too soon nor too late to address the problem of pointless pissing...
posted by jim in austin at 6:47 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


Maxwelton: Universal basic income and healthcare for all. I'd retire right now if those were available, and donate my skills as a programmer to an organization whose cause I believe in, and be happy as could be.

Effin' THIS. This is a collective problem that needs a collective solution - health care for all, a Works Progress Administration, and a basic income. Individuals can't skill or scrimp their way out of this problem. Unfortunately, a lot of jobless 50somethings seem to blame themselves. Or, worse, blame the wrong people (immigrants! brown people! women!) and vote for the wrong politicians (I don't have to tell you) who are responsible for this mess.

What if there was a mass join-up of the DSA on the part of unemployed middle-aged people everywhere?
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:19 AM on January 7 [14 favorites]


I can heartily recommend, "go get a degree or certificate in something, even an online course, and put that on your resume with a recent date."

This isn't a brag because I don't understand it myself, but am constantly told I look ten+ years younger than my actual age


I'll be turning 50 in 6 months. The company where I'm currently working has just had a(nother) round of layoffs because of market forces in our sector, and the scythe didn't account for age. Lots of people in their late 20s-mid 40s were let go globally. I was kept on for two reasons: one, I'm relatively cheap; two, I have institutional knowledge, and our newest CEO (the 5th in the 6 years I've been at this place) decided that that was more important. Many of the other worker bees at my level were let go last summer. This time it was a clutch of D-level staff. This CEO I've actually met, though, and he likes me, so that keeps the rent paid for now. I went through my savings and some of my retirement money (it wasn't much) during my spell of unemployment 2008-2011, and otherwise, I'm sunk if I'm laid off now.

Since I'm alone with no husband and no blood relations having my back, my retirement strategy just might be work 'til I drop.

But I don't want to stay where I am; the pay is bad and the sector is ever-weakening, thanks to people not traveling as much as they used to and not visiting our clients. So last year, I got both a PMP and a Scrum Master certification.

I will definitely work the fact that I still have dark hair and an unlined face that says "34" rather than "50" as I look for other opportunities. And I happily chopped off earlier jobs from my resume. I did that 10 years ago. "Coordinator", "receptionist" and "office PA" wasn't a good look for my goals, anyway.
posted by droplet at 7:22 AM on January 7 [3 favorites]


I’m heartened by the fact that I see many people 65-ish working at my company and they don’t seem to be being pushed out. But alllll my jobs before this, that was absolutely not the case, and I could not have even physically kept up the job to 65, never mind been forced out.

Now I just have to worry about the upcoming Trump Slump, layoffs, and the general implosion of tech.

Also, as a single, childless woman, the youngest in my family, my “twilight” years look pretty bleak. If I’m lucky, my retirement money will last 10 years, barring a crash that sets me back. So... honestly, the options out there are not good. I envision another decade after retirement of cashiering at a craft store, fucking up the register by hitting all the wrong buttons, and annoying the piss out of the 18-yo’s around me. But those jobs might be 100% automated by then anyway. Sigh.
posted by greermahoney at 7:24 AM on January 7


Each time I claw my way back up the pay-scale, something comes along and breaks the back of the Industry, or robs the equity out of the workplace.

I can't help but think we're in for a major recession this year.
posted by JamesBay at 7:33 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


>>>>>>...And then it just takes one person that you think you can work with, and who thinks they can work with you...

Without wishing to sound too much like Eeyore about it, that's rather the point of this post, isn't it? The number of people "who think they can work with you" apparently decreases as you get older.


I dunno, I myself have found it easier to get work over the past 5 years (my mid-forties) than earlier in my career. But I'm a freelancer and people don't care about how old I am. I haven't applied for a job with an application form and resume etc in about 15 years.
posted by JamesBay at 7:35 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


However, if reinvention is the key, then what is the need for the "Learn to accept the least expensive thing that works while ignoring all advertising or social pressures" chiding? This wasn't a discussion about how millennials supposedly fritter away money, after all.

Yeah, I can understand what you mean. It sucks when people do this. However, I interpreted Jim's comment in a slightly different way -- the key to resilience in this modern cutthroat age is low overhead.

We rent a townhouse. The majority of my sons' friends and classmates' parents own their own homes. In Vancouver and Victoria, Canada, this means paying at least C$2,000 a month mortgages, but it's usually closer to C$3,000 (avg price of a semi-detached home here is C$800K, annual avg household income is $90K-ish).

So that minimum $2K mortgage payment would be doable for me (I'm the sole earner in our household), but not if I lost a full-time job. Renting ensures that we won't be left homeless, even if we're looked down upon by some of the other parents.

A lot of families here have two cars, or lease cars. We have a 2007 Honda Fit that's paid off. No car payment means lower risk. Even if people look down on our car.

We don't take trips to Hawaii or Mexico like a lot of other families do. Or go skiing. All of this obviously costs money.

So, if I lose a client it's not a happy thing, but at least I don't have to worry about a car payment or two. I suspect many MeFites are like me in this regard.

Anyway, Jim's comment was more about how in general, people (but not in this thread!) often are tempted or persuaded to spend money because of middle class pretensions or social conventions. Resisting these social pressures can help save money and reduce risk should one be laid off.

I wonder how the interviewee spent original $143K salary? And why did he make the choices that he did?
posted by JamesBay at 7:46 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]


I'm 58. So far, I haven't had trouble finding work (I'm in Toronto, Canada, and I work as a technical writer). But I'm assuming that age discrimination is now a real issue - I plan on staying in my current job as long as I can, as it might be difficult to land another one.

Staying physically active has helped me - running and strength training have kept my energy level reasonably youthful (at least, during work hours - I feel older in the evening!).

But if I had to look for work again, I'd drop all of my older jobs from my employment history, and not display the year that I graduated from university. That might get me past an automatic screening or two.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 8:00 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Picture a ladder continually being pulled up; right now it's slipping out of the grasp of the younger Boomers and the young people on the ground can't even see it anymore.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:13 AM on January 7 [11 favorites]


I am turning 60. I got my current job 5 years ago, after actively looking for 6 months. This is the best job I have had. I work with good people who appreciate my attitude and style. I have the smarts to keep this up for another 5 to 10 years, I'm sure. It helped that I went back to college in my mid-30's. I just chopped off any items prior to that from my resume.

I deal with payroll, among other tasks. I see that the health insurance premiums are age based. This means that people my age (and my spouse) are significantly more expensive that youngsters in their 30's. This would seem to give my company an incentive to move me out and replace me with someone younger. There is no such push.

However, there are hints of a corporate restructuring at some point in the future, for my multinational company. This is something I worry about, but I try not to let is interfere with my enjoyment of life. I put the maximum I am able to afford into the retirement plan, and cut my living expenses as much as is practical.

I really, really don't want to do another job search, as an old person.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 8:30 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


However, I interpreted Jim's comment in a slightly different way -- the key to resilience in this modern cutthroat age is low overhead.

Low overhead and cash reserves...
posted by jim in austin at 8:33 AM on January 7 [4 favorites]


After a string of insignificant jobs from the time of college graduation to about the age of 35, I finally landed a job that I wanted to hang onto for 30 years. I also, not with foresight, but through blind luck, nurtured a skill set and credential that allowed me to, if needed, be self employed.

Damn good thing! 70 years old now, ousted from that 30 year job when the agency closed, and now fully enjoying a job I can keep pretty much as long as I'm breathing and having fun!

My advice.... if you possibly can, start planning early for that profession/job to transition into where age doesn't matter and, hopefully, is even respected.
posted by HuronBob at 9:34 AM on January 7 [5 favorites]


It also occurs to me that this really highlights a difference between the-law-as-it-stands and the-law-as-it-is-implemented. So many employers violate so many labor protections with basically impunity, because you need a lawyer in order to challenge them. God knows the NLRB won't take substantive action.
posted by corb at 10:08 AM on January 7 [6 favorites]


The lesson I learned was: have multiple revenue streams (clients).

The rub: I've found the only way I can get ahead on the cash-reserves part of the equation is actually to work as close to full-time as possible for a single client. Hourly rates in my industry are abysmal and years where I have to cobble together several part-time clients are years where I work 100 hour weeks for 45 weeks in a row.

(But getting a staff job is hardly a solution -- staff salaries are also abysmal, and everyone south of the C-suite lives paycheck to paycheck unless they're lucky enough to be married to a higher earner.)

However, I interpreted Jim's comment in a slightly different way -- the key to resilience in this modern cutthroat age is low overhead.

My partner earns less than I do and doesn't understand why I don't enjoy my money more. This is why.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:22 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


Okay, I was thinking a long time about why Jim In Austin's comment rubbed me so much the wrong way, and why his subsequent attempts to respond have also done so. It's not entirely his fault; and as much as I understand that the whole generational argument is a broad brush, I think it has something to do with it.

To wit: people in their late 40s to early 50s are squarely in Generation X. Most of us were in a precarious state from the get-go - we graduated into a small recession, and while some of us recovered from it in the dot-com boom, most of us didn't get in on that; and those that did just lost our money again later. And then again during the financial collapse.

We had the same kind of high tuition bills and student loan debt that Millennials have been dealing with - and the same struggles with medical insurance - but we were a smaller demographic, so our struggles never really got all that much attention.

At the same time, the big cause de celebre amongst Gen-X in the early 90s was the threatened collapse of Social Security. Pensions were being taken away and replaced with 401Ks and IRAs, which we could only contribute to if we had enough left over after making ends meet. And having Social Security potentially be exhausted by the time we reached retirement age scared a lot of us.

In fact - it scared us to the point that we actually never really bought into consumerism for a long time, a trait that was remarked on frequently when I was in my 20s. Except - what they missed was that we weren't anti-corporate out of any kind of screw-the-man ethic, we were petrified that if we spent money today, we weren't going to have it when we retired.

And throughout the 90s, the things we were hearing again and again from our elders seemed astonishingly tone-deaf; "get a job and stick with it!" (Why stick with it, when there's no more pension to make it worth our while?) "You need to buy a house to build equity!" (Buy a house with what money, when we need to start parceling some of our earnings to our retirement?) "Education is your golden ticket, get a good degree!" (How will we pay for that, on top of the house which you're pushing us to get and the retirement which you're forcing us to save for?) "For the love of God, get medical insurance!" (....Again, with what money?)

So this "there is always a way to stop pissing your money away" is generating the response "exactly which part of my expenses would you consider to have been 'pissed away' - the rent, the utilities, the retirement contribution? Especially since some of my biggest expenses are things you persuaded me to undertake to 'build equity'?"

My ultimate point being; at some time between the mid-70s and the 2000s,society and the economy underwent an enormous shift, which dramatically changed the way the game was played. This shift benefitted those of the Boomers' generation to a larger degree. Now, I do not hold the entire Boomer generation responsible for these changes, and also I do not claim that everyone in the Boomers' generation wanted things to be so.

But for the love of God I wish that instead of giving us advice that doesn't fit the current reality, because it was what they did when they were our age, I wish they would stop, look at what the current reality actually is, and try to counsel us on the problems that we are actually facing - most of which have been caused by many of their own generational companions.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on January 7 [55 favorites]


Mean Mr Mustard came up while I finished this thread. I’m an Xer between this thread and the Millennial burnout thread.
Mean* Mister Mustard sleeps in the park
Shaves in the dark trying to save paper
....
Such a mean old man

His sister Pam works in a shop
She never stops, she’s a go getter


*mean - poor in quality and appearance; shabby

Absent a college education, I’m still in some ways both go-getters my way into being a bit better off than my parents and in some ways theirs, though they were all go-getters who also found time for leisure.

But I feel like I’m striving at full speed just not to drown, and can’t shake it even with some retirement savings and hoping my health doesn’t just make me unemployable even as a contractor. My friends making on less angers me that they have to work harder for less and really never get ahead or less behind. #fightforfifteen and UBI for sure.
posted by tilde at 10:36 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


people in their late 40s to early 50s are squarely in Generation X

Technically I'm just past that "early 50's" cutoff but functionally I've always been in Gen-X mindset and circumstances, and I'm absolutely in the same boat that EmpressCallipygos describes.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:10 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


(by which I mean that I'm adding one more corroborating and commiserating voice to what other Gen-Xers have said in this thread)
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:13 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


But for the love of God I wish that instead of giving us advice that doesn't fit the current reality, because it was what they did when they were our age, I wish they would stop, look at what the current reality actually is, and try to counsel us on the problems that we are actually facing - most of which have been caused by many of their own generational companions.

You know my parents, then.

They wanted me, when job hunting in 2017, to get a job working stock in the mall - when I have an arthritic knee - for the holidays, during the time I was, you know, looking for a Real Job. So I'd have to:
  1. set up interviews around holiday mall job hours.
  2. get to and from the mall, when I don't drive, needing one of them to drive me there and back again (my wife and I were staying with them, and we have no car nor do I have a license currently)
  3. assume the mall wouldn't change my hours at the last minute
  4. deal with - as noted above - being a stockperson with an arthritic knee and all the paid that goes with it.
The discussion did not go well. Thankfully, just before Thanksgiving I got a job. Sure, I had to spend about half my salary just to get to work (buses from Great Adventure to the Port Authority Bus Terminal are not cheap), but I was working... and more importantly, not getting to a point where I'd need to worry about discussing politics.
posted by mephron at 11:34 AM on January 7 [2 favorites]


I’m semi-fortunate in that after a career shift at age 38 (so long, clergyworld!) I wound up teaching community college speech classes. The pay is bad and the work isn’t intellectually stimulating, but I’m pretty good at it and generally fond of my exuberant, poorly-prepared students. I don’t really see retirement ever happening for me—I’m still longing for the glorious day when my net worth is a positive number—but when the kids are grown I’m going to buy a house adjacent to the campus, walk over every day and keep going until I croak. With three weeks off at Christmas, spring break, and vacation from mid-May until mid-August, I don’t see a reason to stop. One of our math instructors dropped dead halfway through the fall semester at age 81, and I plan to follow his example.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:43 AM on January 7 [10 favorites]


*mean - poor in quality and appearance; shabby

well what about how he always shouts out something obscene?
posted by thelonius at 12:04 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


For decades, I worked a job that I loathed but was really good at (investment banking) or jobs that I loved but made no money (music for film). In my 40s, I found the balance — r&d software development — and started to make non-soul eating money. But minimal social security wages + moving to another country a long time ago + said country not having ss + permanently classified as contractor == my only retirement is what I save. Period. I’m ruthlessly paying down out mortgage as fast as possible. I’m diligent about making lunches and yummy dinners at home rather than dining out. We keep our major holiday to every other year because taking leave means no pay. seeing my aging parents costs us tens of thousands of dollars in expenses and lost wages. My retirement math says we should hit savings targets. But if we live too long, we’ll run out of money, no matter how careful I am. I’m acutely aware I got lucky; if I hadn’t found this I’d be having a bleeding ulcer, never met my man, all while investment banking. Purgatory.

Needless to say, I dyed my hair and truncated my resume when I went job hunting for this career switch. I’m at that Asian woman stage where I can pass for 30 or 50. But one day, over a 24 hour span, those delayed wrinkles will arrive and the jig will be up. Hopefully my institutional knowledge from wandering around the pipeline as a generalist will still render me valuable.
posted by lemon_icing at 12:36 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]


"Picture a ladder continually being pulled up; right now it's slipping out of the grasp of the younger Boomers and the young people on the ground can't even see it anymore."

Thanks, Card Cheat, this is probably the clearest encapsulation of reality I have read.

As a younger Boomer, the ladder has slipped out of my hands and I am free-falling. I do have a tiny parachute so I am fortunate. I know others have been unable to stuff that parachute in their bag for lots of reasons so I am not going to judge anyone.
posted by Altomentis at 12:44 PM on January 7 [6 favorites]


.... and I’m all for universal basic income and healthcare. I may no longer live in the USA, but I still pay taxes and would happily pay the wee bit more for that safety net for others.
posted by lemon_icing at 12:51 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]


Low overhead and cash reserves...
posted by jim in austin at 10:33 on January 7


This is so out of touch I barely have words for it. Especially coming from a beneficiary of the Reagan SS sabotage.
posted by PMdixon at 1:05 PM on January 7 [9 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: But for the love of God I wish that instead of giving us advice that doesn't fit the current reality, because it was what they did when they were our age, I wish they would stop, look at what the current reality actually is, and try to counsel us on the problems that we are actually facing - most of which have been caused by many of their own generational companions.

I think you’ll find that the Old Economy Steven memes sum up your point perfectly.
posted by dr_dank at 1:32 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


>U.S. median income is something like $60K, yet the main interviewee is earning something like $90K, which is considered a step down from the $145K he used to make, which would have put him in the top 10% of earners in the U.S. posted by JamesBay

I noticed that too. As someone well over 50, I've seen this happen to a lot of friends, but none of them were making anywhere near that much money to start with. I think the story of the woman who was turned down for a waitressing job because she would "just leave when [she] found a better job" is more representative.
posted by pangolin party at 1:34 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]


the story of the woman who was turned down for a waitressing job because she would "just leave when [she] found a better job"

But, I mean...isn't that what everybody does? And it's actually standard advice? Not the point here, but still, it sounds like trying to hire people who could never get a better job.
posted by rhizome at 1:51 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]


"U.S. median income is something like $60K, yet the main interviewee is earning something like $90K, which is considered a step down from the $145K he used to make, which would have put him in the top 10% of earners in the U.S. posted by JamesBay"

Unless you live in any number of high-priced cities, where $90K is nothing.
posted by etaoin at 2:01 PM on January 7


To the younger folks here, you have to plan to be permanently unemployed at some point before the magical age of 65. The age is getting younger and younger.

Meanwhile state pension ages are steadily going up "because you live longer so you can work longer".
posted by MartinWisse at 2:05 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]


The idea that "just keep learning and be flexible and only one person needs to give you a job" is hopelessly naive advice even on the face of it, but what's worse is that at best it's something that could help a few, but could never help all of the people caught in this age trap.

It depends on making yourself exceptional among your peers and the moment everybody is exceptional, nobody is.

It's also stupid because it assumes employers would actually care about this, rather than just look at how old you are.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:08 PM on January 7 [9 favorites]


I'm in my 30s, cannot get medicare until I'm 67?

It's not quite that bad. The age when retired people can receive full Social Security benefits is increasing gradually to age 67. The age for Medicare eligibility remains at 65. (Social Security FAQ KA-01885)
posted by Snerd at 2:46 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


We Boomers grew up in an aberration. It deformed not only us but the expectations of those who followed. Since the 60's our economy has shifted ever more towards equilibrium with the rest of the world. Apparently this confuses Boomers and angers everyone else younger. Here is the best short explanation I have seen. Still, I suppose I'm sorry for something I had no hand in but I don't know why...
posted by jim in austin at 2:59 PM on January 7 [7 favorites]


Unless you live in any number of high-priced cities, where $90K is nothing.

Not to highlight your comment but rather a common misapprehension - making this statement often says more about a particular socioeconomic class and acquaintances than any actual city in the United States, in most of which the median household income is under $90k, and in none of which the median per capita income is over $90k.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:18 PM on January 7 [11 favorites]


Which is to say, it may not go as far as it would elsewhere, but in most cities, even extremely expensive ones, it is more than most people make.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:19 PM on January 7 [2 favorites]


Still, I suppose I'm sorry for something I had no hand in but I don't know why...

I'm not asking you to be sorry for causing this. I'm asking you to apologize for apparently understanding full well that your advice will not work, but still giving us that advice nevertheless as though this were our doing, even though you apparently know that it isn't. It smacks of blaming the victim, to be frank.

Instead of lecturing us to "be flexible" and "spend less," why not direct your advocacy towards an avenue that could actually do some good, like working towards a universal basic income or restoring the tax rate or a pension system? The economic support granted to the Boomers didn't have to be "an anomaly", it can be restored for the rest of us - if the Boomers, which are still,the largest demographic group in the country, has the will to fix things.

You want to help us and I understand that, but I am telling you that THAT is the way to help us. Not giving us advice which you apparently know is useless.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:44 PM on January 7 [16 favorites]


Fuck this system. If I get laid off I'm devoting whatever resources I have to UBI/healthcare advocacy. Till I keel over from an untreated medical problem anyway.
posted by emjaybee at 3:57 PM on January 7 [5 favorites]


I'm not asking you to be sorry for causing this. I'm asking you to apologize for apparently understanding full well that your advice will not work, but still giving us that advice nevertheless as though this were our doing, even though you apparently know that it isn't.

They do work, although they are far more efficacious when begun at a younger age. I didn't begin in earnest until I was about 50. I had zero savings and had spent a career in bar and restaurant, a sector known for low wages and few benefits. My advice doesn't come from privilege, it comes from learning the hard way.

Instead of lecturing us to "be flexible" and "spend less," why not direct your advocacy towards an avenue that could actually do some good, like working towards a universal basic income or restoring the tax rate or a pension system? The economic support granted to the Boomers didn't have to be "an anomaly", it can be restored for the rest of us - if the Boomers, which are still,the largest demographic group in the country, has the will to fix things.

Sorry, I seem to have misplaced my magic wand. If these things were politically possible, they would have been law long ago since they are both desirable and beneficial to everyone, including Boomers. The problem must therefore lie elsewhere. What could it be?
posted by jim in austin at 5:48 PM on January 7


Jim: don't be condescending. A "magic wand" is not necessary, only willpower is.

Consider: it's the kind of willpower that you're asking others to exercise in hewing to a policy of curtailing their spending. Why is that advice easy to give out, but not to receive?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:54 PM on January 7 [3 favorites]


[Couple comments deleted. jim in austin, you've made your point several times, please leave it at that.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:36 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Unless you live in any number of high-priced cities, where $90K is nothing.

Tom Steckel, the interviewee who now makes $90K a year, maintains a residence in Plymouth, Wisconsin (he has to work away from home, though). The real estate market (unlike expensive coastal cities like Seattle and SF) is depressed there, which is why they can't move.

Earlier in his career he worked in Chicago and northern New Jersey. Presumbably the COL in those regions is pretty high, warranting a $143K senior manager salary.

He then got laid off and eventually got a job in Plymouth, Wisconsin. He got laid off of that job and now makes $90K a year working in South Dakota.

C$90K a year household income is barely enough to support a family of four in this part of Canada. That's $45K if both spouses work. C$45K is an entry-level professional wage in this part of Canada. C$90K is my personal revenue target each year. I'm so lucky that, compared to a decade ago, so much more common to contract and work remotely. This means I have access to labour markets around the world that pay higher than employers in Victoria.

Canada is very expensive.
posted by JamesBay at 6:39 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Trying to pull something other than despair out of this.

I'm an x-ennial as they say, and I've been at the same workplace (with a couple of lateral moves) for 18 years. This scares me absolutely shitless sometimes. Nooooobody is going to want to hire that. I don't even have a copy of my resume handy because it was last seen on, like, a Zip drive somewhere in the late 90s.

I deal with a lot of feelings of worthlessness around this. It's seen as low class to stick in one job (or one city) too long. Office work feels like grunt work unless you're something specific, a programmer or an accountant or something. I mean, think about the stereotype of the lady who's worked in the same office for 18 years. I sure do. (I guess the male equivalent stereotype is, like, Scully and Hitchcock from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Sigh.)

I'm going to believe, though, that it was okay to stay put. At least some of that time. And I know that part of it is willful ignorance. And I keep thinking of a co-worker who had a desk near mine; we'd started at about the same time. She was 15-20 years older than me and died not quite in her cubicle. It was over a weekend instead. Vacation time banked up. Didn't get to retire.

I'm okay with the idea of working in the abstract. But... yeah. Universal health care and UBI would go a log way. We are not cogs.
posted by cage and aquarium at 6:40 PM on January 7 [8 favorites]


LobsterMitten: Understood...
posted by jim in austin at 6:46 PM on January 7


The “skills gap” was a lie.
the skills gap was the consequence of high unemployment rather than its cause. With workers plentiful, employers got choosier. Rather than investing in training workers, they demanded lots of experience and educational credentials.

And while job skills are obviously important, when the labor market is healthy employers have incentives to try to impart skills to workers rather than posting advertorial content about how the government should fix this problem for them.
posted by tilde at 6:54 PM on January 7 [9 favorites]


I'm an x-ennial as they say, and I've been at the same workplace (with a couple of lateral moves) for 18 years. This scares me absolutely shitless sometimes. Nooooobody is going to want to hire that.

Me too, but nobody wants to hire anyone these days at all so what's the fucking difference? Nobody wanted to hire me any of the times I've been job hunting while in this job when I had less years built up. And it doesn't matter anyway because I am a clerical worker and will never ever be able to move up anyway. But until I get fired, anyway, this job is stable and I've been very lucky compared to most people.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:46 PM on January 7 [1 favorite]


Pre-40: Kicking myself for not majoring in tech or programming or whatnot.
Post-40: Thanking whatever deities are out there that I didn't major in tech or programming or whatnot.
posted by gtrwolf at 11:20 PM on January 7 [4 favorites]


I deal with a lot of feelings of worthlessness around this. It's seen as low class to stick in one job (or one city) too long.

cage and aquarium, I am so sorry you wrestle with feelings of worthlessness because of the opinions of people who do not matter having randomly decided that this or that is low class. I mean, our lives are hard enough as it is. If you have good reasons for staying in one job and/or one city (which used to be considered the ideal not so long ago), then you are taking care of yourself by staying in that job and in that city.

If your work feels like grunt work then, sure, that sucks and there may potentially be ways to deal with that. That is different than allowing other people's judgments to determine how we feel about our own value as individuals. Why would we do that? If our value is based on what other people think then we are all screwed, collectively and singularly.

Apologies if this seems harsh because I do not mean to be harsh. Rather, I am horrified because I remember being told once in college not to do something in a particular way (scraping dishes) because it was "low class." That made me feel terrible at the time. Even though it is not up to me, I hate the idea of you or anyone feeling like that because of opinionated assholes. Those people, yuck.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:13 AM on January 8 [5 favorites]


I've seen the effects of these patterns, not only as they affect workers directly, but how they affect the culture and performance of the kinds of large organizations I've worked for. Workers can sense when they're in an organizational culture that considers them potentially disposable, and for those nearing or over age 50 that means that few feel they can afford to raise uncomfortable truths or propose taking the smart risks the organization needs. It's truly toxic.

I made the decision last year to go into business for myself, partly because I'm not too far out from that demographic and was concerned of what that might mean for my long-term survivability...and partly because it felt like now-or-never to take that risk. If it doesn't pan out, then with the help of my hair colorist/stylist and good self-care and lord willing and the creek don't rise, I may yet have a window to break back into corporate life. Being a woman and working in a technology-focused field doesn't soothe me on this front.
posted by shelbaroo at 6:23 AM on January 8 [7 favorites]


I turn 50 next month and I expect the company I am at to keep me forever, because they do that historically, but what happens if they go under? I'm pretty screwed. Even staying here I can't retire at any time in the future, had to kill the retirement account a few years ago for medical. Kid goes to college in 2 years, still paying off student loans, retired parent needs help. There are no good outcomes.
posted by Manic Pixie Hollow at 7:21 AM on January 8 [1 favorite]


"With only a few years to go on a mortgage and an aging mother, I'm not in a position to move."

"retired parent needs help"

This is another thing that's hit Gen X'ers hard. The Boomers are living longer than previous generations, and are also hitting points where they need more care. If you're lucky this costs only time. If you're not, it can cost a lot of money. Both of my parents and one of my in-laws required a lot of help. I know a lot of other people in my age group who are taking care of parents in one way or another. Sometimes courts are involved, not because anyone has done anything wrong but because these situations can get messy through no fault of the kids. I know someone who lives in a place where they're not happy and can't make much money, but if they leave to a place they want to live and where they can make a lot more money, their parent (who needs a lot of attending) will be alone. It's extremely draining. So much so that it's not uncommon for someone to feel relief more than grief when an aging parent passes. Imagine being 53, finding yourself fresh out of work, and you have to take care of mom as well.
posted by azpenguin at 8:40 AM on January 8 [7 favorites]


C$90K a year household income is barely enough to support a family of four in this part of Canada.

C$90k is like $67k US, and that it is nonetheless significantly higher than the median per capita income in every Canadian city, and still higher than the median household income in most Canadian cities. And wealth isn't distributed evenly--the median doesn't tell the whole story.

And the comparison doesn't really work. Canada has an actual, far more robust social safety net, than the US, and a host of other dissimilarities that make this comparison read as a little dismissive in a space where a whole host of people are expressing some pretty vivid fears about e.g. losing health care after becoming underemployed or unemployable due to ageism, or losing a job because of health care concerns.

I reiterate: making this statement often says more about [a person's] particular socioeconomic class and acquaintances than any actual city.

$90k may not go that far in hypotheticalRichtown, but I can assure you that for somewhere over a quarter of the households in hypotheticalRichtown, it would mean an enormous change in quality of life.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:05 PM on January 8 [8 favorites]



The Atlantic

“Between 1947 and 1973 the average hourly wage for nonsupervisory workers in private industries other than agriculture (restated in 2013 dollars) nearly doubled, from $12.27 to $21.23—an average growth rate of 2.1 percent per annum. But by 2013 the average hourly wage was only $20.13—a 5 percent fall from the 1973 level.” For most people, then, the magic of increasing productivity stopped working around 1973, and they had to keep working just as much in order to maintain their standard of living.

[...]

Friedman says that reality comports more with a darker version of technological unemployment: It’s not unemployment per se, but a soft labor market in which millions of people are “desperately seeking whatever low-wage work [they] can get.” This is corroborated by a recent poll by Marketplace that found that for half of hourly workers, their top concern isn’t that they work too much but that they work too little—not, presumably, because they like their jobs so much, but because they need the money.
posted by tilde at 2:30 AM on January 9


you guys what if we didn't prove Malthus wrong at all but just temporarily used fossil fuels to boost the carrying capacity per acre of arable land and now we're returning to the historical norm in which most people survive at the subsistence level with a hierarchy concentrating any surplus at the level of a tiny ruling elite

exactly like piketty said we were
posted by PMdixon at 6:46 AM on January 9 [5 favorites]


I'm planning to retire next year from the job I was very lucky to get at the age of 59. The job I have is one that I would definitely have left after a few years -because of shit pay and benefits- if I were thirty years younger. I've known all along that it would be extremely difficult for me to get another job if I left this one.

I have an acquaintance (actually a relative by marriage of a relative) who is a 60 year old white American male (I'm a white American woman). He has a trust fund and degrees from top universities ( I have only the latter and I'm still paying student loans). He's bored with his current high-paying job and planning to seek another. I predict that, based on his background, he will have no problem finding another.
posted by mareli at 7:35 AM on January 9 [1 favorite]


you guys what if we didn't prove Malthus wrong at all but just temporarily used fossil fuels to boost the carrying capacity per acre of arable land and now we're returning to the historical norm in which most people survive at the subsistence level with a hierarchy concentrating any surplus at the level of a tiny ruling elite

Very simplistic argument. Doesn't even account for productivity gains of technology over the past two centuries.

Kids, just say "no" to Malthus.
posted by JamesBay at 9:27 AM on January 9


For most people, then, the magic of increasing productivity stopped working around 1973, and they had to keep working just as much in order to maintain their standard of living.

1973 is when the first microprocessors started taking hold, and just before the Intel 8080 became the first modern CPU in 1974. This just so happens to be when the the income disparity curves diverge, due to executives and shareholders deciding they were going to reap nearly all of the profitable productivity gains of technology, from that point forward and continuing today.

So, and I'm no economist, but it would appear that the magic didn't actually stop working, it's just that the magic was not shared.
posted by rhizome at 11:49 AM on January 9 [6 favorites]


Not to highlight your comment but rather a common misapprehension - making this statement often says more about a particular socioeconomic class and acquaintances than any actual city in the United States, in most of which the median household income is under $90k, and in none of which the median per capita income is over $90k.

New Census data: San Francisco getting richer, more crowded
The median income in San Francisco County has increased by 30 percent in just five years, according to new U.S. Census data.

In 2012, the average San Franciscan made $73,802. Five years later, he's making $96,265 — nearly $40,000 more than the U.S. average. About 21 percent of the population makes $200,000 or more in a year, up from just 13.3 percent in 2012.
posted by Lexica at 11:22 AM on January 10


I think aspersioncast was talking about per capita income, which is apparently $52,261 in SF (random website, sorry, I don't think the ACS website lets you disaggregate for that - and it's not a median, just the full mean - this is better.) Your link refers to the median household income, even though the lazy journalism didn't make that particularly clear.
posted by mosst at 11:56 AM on January 10 [1 favorite]


If I were a more cynical man, I might be tempted to think that now that the baby boomers are safe...

Cheer up, boomer bashers. We're not "safe." And we're not responsible for your troubles, as much as you wish we were. We are in the same boat, kids, and pitting one generation against another is just a distraction, while our meager pockets continue to be picked by conservative corporate policies that most of us boomers have been fighting for decades.

This is how "retirement" looks for most of us.

'More and more older people are finding themselves in a similar situation as Baby Boomers reach retirement age without enough savings and as housing costs and medical expenses rise; for instance, a woman in her 80s is paying on average $8,400 in out-of-pocket medical expenses each year, even if she’s covered by Medicare. Many people reaching retirement age don’t have the pensions that lots of workers in previous generations did, and often have not put enough money into their 401(k)s to live off of; the median savings in a 401(k) plan for people between the ages of 55 and 64 is currently just $15,000, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security, a nonprofit. Other workers did not have access to a retirement plan through their employer.

That means that as people reach their mid-60s, they either have to dramatically curtail their spending or keep working to survive. “This will be the first time that we have a lot of people who find themselves downwardly mobile as they grow older,” Diane Oakley, the executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security, told me. “They’re going to go from being near poor to poor.”'

I am 65. Two months ago I was laid off of the job I intended to keep until age 70. I lost my health insurance. Medicaid doesn't kick in until next month. My monthly prescriptions cost nearly $1,000 (more than half my current income), so I'm hoping I don't have an asthma attack or pulmonary embolism before then. Then I have the next 20 years to look forward to trying to survive on SS, because nobody is hiring 65-year-old women at a living wage.

But hey, I'm a boomer, so I must be taking it easy, resting on my piles of wealth, right? Right?
posted by caryatid at 1:53 PM on January 10 [13 favorites]


Five years later, he's making $96,265
As mosst said, this is just lazy journalism (also "he," really SFGate?). The author keeps using mean, median and "average" interchangeably, and confusing household, individual, and per capita income.

And EVEN SO, even if the actual median individual income in SF is $96k, that would still mean a substantial chunk of the population is scraping by on substantially less than that, driving the Ubers and making the food. There are a shitload of homeless people in SF, and undocumented people, and prostitutes and hustlers and all the other humans whose minuscule/unreported income isn't counted in these stats.

Anyway, that wasn't even what the thread was about, it's just a pet peeve. I hear things like "pshh $70k is nothing in DC, can't even live on that" all the time, and IMO it's rife with classist assumptions. The unsaid implication is that "no one who is a responsible upstanding citizen can possibly live what I consider to be a respectable lifestyle in this city while making only [income that very many people in city are in fact living on]."

MeFi is a place where I expect people to exhibit a little more care and self-examination than that. So, since I don't actually think that's what people here mean to say, I push back on it when it comes up. Because if I were making what came across as a judgemental classist remark I'd want to know about it.

To the topic of the thread, I have first-hand experience of being underemployed in the Bay Area fifteen years ago, and it fucking sucked in some ways, because it was already bonkers expensive then, but I managed. I can't imagine what it's like now if you're over 50, because the ageism was already a huge problem in the '90s, and it's a lot harder to find a shared warehouse space in the Dogpatch these days.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:31 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


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