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Baby Boomers and the Great Recession — guest post by Susan Sipprelle

Posted Mar 04 2011 1:25am

Susan Sipprelle is a journalist who has wanted to do a long-term documentary project about what was happening to her peers, the boomers, as a result of the Great Recession.  Sipprelle has been working with Sam Newman, project videographer, since last February.

For the past year, we have been traveling across the United States conducting video interviews with Americans who are Over 50 and Out of Work, a multimedia documentary project.
 
Over the past 12 months, we have interviewed laid-off steelworkers, IT project managers, bankers, paper mill workers, bookkeepers, a bartender, social workers, carpenters, salespeople, a teacher, a lobsterman, auto workers, engineers, a physician’s assistant and government employees.  We have traveled to New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada, California and Washington, D.C., and we are shortly headed to South Carolina, Louisiana and Oregon.
 
As a consequence of the Great Recession, older Americans are unemployed at record rates and for longer periods of time than ever before.  Many boomers have seen the value of their homes and savings decline precipitously over the last 10 years, and they also have less time than younger workers to recoup their losses and regain financial equilibrium.  Finally, they face a daunting uphill battle against age discrimination and bias directed against the jobless when they seek re-employment.
 
Currently, we have 69 video stories with unemployed boomers on our site, as we approach our goal of 100 Stories.  We have also interviewed Experts :  economists, researchers and senior AARP executives, who set the issues surrounding unemployment among older workers in context and provide jobhunting tips and advice.
 
The stories we are documenting weave together into an amazing mosaic that captures the past 50 years of seismic U.S. social and economic changes, including the Sixties, Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the decline of American manufacturing, Reaganomics, corporate mergers and restructuring, downsizing, outsourcing, 9/11 and globalization.
 
When our interviewees lose their jobs, they also usually lose their health insurance, which causes them great concern at the age of 50-plus.  Sometimes, they also lose their home and their spouse. Frequently, their relationships with friends and other family members are strained.  They sometimes grow discouraged, even depressed.
 
Yet, the stories that our interviewees tell with great eloquence are not only about the hardships they have faced due to job loss caused by the Great Recession, but also about their hopes, their expectations, and their dreams.   Boomers, often regarded as self-centered and indulgent, reveal unexpected depths of courage, faith, perseverance and resilience.
 
A few of our interviewees remain unemployed, but most of them have found part-time jobs or temporary employment.  They continue to struggle – trying to cope with serious underemployment and significantly reduced incomes and no health insurance. 
 
Happily, about 20 percent of our interviewees have successfully landed new full-time positions, but they have suffered through long months of unemployment while they attended job support and counseling groups and simultaneously earned additional professional certificates or degrees as they searched for new jobs.  In short, they strategized and studied hard to find new jobs, and the process was not easy.
 
They have adapted to and recognized the changing conditions in the job market and the extended life expectancy of their generation.   Over the lifespan of the boomer generation, life expectancy has increased dramatically.  For an American born in 1950, average life expectancy was about 68 years.  At that time, if an American reached the age of 65, he or she could expect to live another 14 years.  Today, average life expectancy is 78, and an American who has turned 65 can expect to live another 18 years.  Unlike prior generations, boomers have more time to reinvent themselves and adapt to a changing world.
 
Our mission is to document the drastic impact of the Great Recession on boomers.   We believe that our project helps them get back into the labor market by improving the cultural perception of older workers and informs the public policy debate, making it easier for them to re-enter the workforce.
 
Please take a look at our site, watch our videos and contribute your experiences and comments .


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