What happens to a society, and the collective human psyche, when its source of socioeconomic stability, security, self-confidence, cultural identity, self-worth, and self-respect downsizes, shuts its doors, or relocates? The pink slip said, “Nothing personal. In the process of corporate restructuring, your position has been permanently eliminated.”
The United States began to experience economic erosion in March 2001. States which depended heavily on industry were hardest hit. For the first time since the Great Depression, the U.S. succumbed to an Employers Market. The economy continued to spiral downward, and by 2004 there were 403,300 unemployed Americans. And, 11,000 jobs were lost per day in 2007. Following the Stock Market crashed on October 6, 2008 there were 2.4 Million unemployed or underemployed, uninsured, displaced, disgruntled and impatient adults in the U.S. But, bottom had not hit, yet. In 2010 the number of unemployed in the U.S. was 7.9 Million, and in 2011 there were 10.5 Million adults actively looking for work, with an estimated 3 Million who had given up their search. The only difference between the Great Depression and the Great Recession were Government bread lines, soup kitchens, and gas stamps! The U.S. economic disaster also had a domino effect which reached globally.
With the end of the Great Depression and WWII, from 1946-1964, there were 76 Million recorded births in the United States; dubbed appropriately the Baby Boomer Generation. The industrialized economy flourished, and so did a full realization of the American Dream. “The traditional social ideals of the United States, such as equality, democracy, and material prosperity.” Wikipedia
However, throughout the years the United States endured a significant timeline of economic recessions. Stagflation was a cold hard reality for the working poor and middle class. Many worked several jobs in an effort to bring home a livable wage. In 1996, businesses began to restructure and downsize its massive labor force. Baby Boomers were “encouraged” to take early retirement. There was a time when early retirement was part of the “American Dream,” when workers were confident that their long accrued pension benefits and Social Security/Medicare benefits would sufficiently support them in their retirement years.
Millions of aging Baby Boomers, on the fringe of retirement eligibility, not only lost their jobs, but, an early retirement quickly saw savings, pensions, and 401k retirement funds wiped out, largely due to the stock market crash, and out of pocket healthcare expenses. Over 3 million high paying jobs were lost forever in the economic crash. Youthful, inexperienced, college graduates quickly became target employees to replace the aging, stable and experienced workforce. In an attempt to justify replacing one workforce with another, Labor economists theorized that the U.S would become globally competitive with a younger, fresh, more flexible workforce. But, economically, and in truth, youth presented fewer chronic health issues, and they could begin their career at a much lower starting wage than the workforce they were replacing.
Workers that opted for early retirement quickly faced the cold hard fact that they couldn’t afford to live on their depleted retirement assets. Not wanting to become a burden on family or society, they were forced into long unemployment lines, competing for jobs with people half their age. Baby Boomers also discovered that the federally mandated Age Discrimination in Employment Act of `1967 only looked good on paper, and sounded better in theory. The working poor and middle class population resigned themselves to the harsh reality that retirement would never be part of their long range plans, or their vocabulary.
The country was facing a recession domino effect: Long term unemployment (over six months), and long-term under-employment creates; a loss of human dignity and self-worth. And, the results are; financial defaults, wage garnishments, foreclosures and bankruptcy. But, the psychological residual effects go much deeper; prolonged stress, anxiety, insomnia, shame, embarrassment, self-imposed isolation, anti-social behavior, estrangement, domestic violence, child abuse, divorce, substance abuse, despair, chronic mental and/or physical illness, despondency, clinical depression, and suicide.
There’s always been economic class divisions, as William Wells Newell’s children’s nursery rhyme showed in 1883; “Rich man, Poor man, Beggar-man, Thief, Doctor, Lawyer, Indian chief.” The Deep Recession of 2008 stuck a knife in that division and twisted the blade. The affluent 1.2% of the American population hurled brutal, demeaning accusations at the less fortunate 99.8%. “If the whiners really wanted to work, there’s work!” “Unemployment benefits are an entitlement crutch!” And, the less fortunate silently hung their heads and wondered if the affluent was telling their children that they could no longer afford lights, water, heat, housing, food, transportation, healthcare, Thanksgiving, or Christmas?
It took ten long years for the United States to functionally recover from the Great Depression. Manual labor and hard work brought the country back, but, this time, the Government was calling for a “better educated workforce.” In a catch-22 situation, people of all ages, backgrounds, and experience took a major chance and went back to school in order to compete in the “new” workforce. An education requires time, and unemployment benefits ran out long before the upgraded, new workforce was ready. The disheartening and scary reality was; there were no guarantees for gainful employment after completion, just a huge Government Student Loan debt.
Even more disheartening was the fact that throughout the transition, employers discovered that they could reach their bottom line, and profit, with far less employees and overhead. Full time employment was replaced with part-time positions, thus ending traditional benefit packages. And, Medical, IT and Engineering were the areas that held the greatest promise for attaining gainful employment.
People with 20+ years of experience and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business were forced to go back to college, and upgrade in one of those three areas. If they attain work after graduation, they will work the rest of their lives. This is a fact of life. They may not have youth, but, they have determination, perseverance, dedication, and “old school” work ethic which will clearly set them apart as an invaluable contribution and asset in the new workforce.
- Are Baby Boomers financially ready for retirement? (statchatva.org)