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May Unemployment Report for Workers Over 55

Without the Choice to Retire, Unemployment Exacts High Psychological Costs on Older Workers

This post was originally published at The New School SCEPA. 

The Department of Labor’s monthly unemployment report released today shows  an unemployment rate of 3.4% for workers over the age of 55. The unemployment rate has decreased from 3.6% last month to 3.4%, a decrease of 0.2 percentage points.

In addition to imposing a financial cost on older workers, unemployment can also impose a psychological cost. The unemployed are not unemployed by choice. And being deprived of choice creates a feeling of helplessness. According to the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a nationally representative study of older Americans, unemployed respondents were more likely than both workers and retirees their same age to report a general feeling of helplessness. Among 55 to 64-year-olds, 40% of the unemployed agreed with the statement, “I often feel helpless in dealing with the problems of life,” compared to 8% of retirees and 16% of older workers. Proposals to cut Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age will condemn some older Americans to unemployment, and will force others to continue to work out of economic necessity. Policymakers should prioritize preserving and strengthening the institutions that give people the choice to retire, rather than chipping away at their foundations. This means expanding Social Security and implementing  Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) to provide workers with effective savings vehicles over their working lives and lifelong income in retirement.

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Teresa Ghilarducci

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