Carl Lindstrom, 59, has gone without a full-time job for more than a year and has done about all he can to hold his personal expenses in check during the recession.
He keeps his electric bill low by running his refrigerator and water heater only at night. He has no TV, because he cannot afford the antenna needed to receive signals where he lives in Creston, Iowa, southwest of Des Moines.
He goes without health insurance, even though he needs some teeth pulled and is overdue for a prostate exam.
He is going through a divorce, but he is representing himself to avoid the expense of hiring a lawyer.
Until now, the system has worked, sort of. With a part-time minimum-wage job and his $266-a-week unemployment check, he has been able to afford his $400 monthly rental.
But now he is facing crunch time. The unemployment checks run out in November, and unless he finds a job soon, Lindstrom says he will lose his home.
Becoming “really poor”
“I am going to be really poor then,” he says. “If I don’t have a job … I am going to have to move.” Asked where, he adds, “I don’t have a clue.”
The recession has been plenty hard on older workers. More than 800,000 Americans age 55-plus have lost jobs over the past year alone. The economy has provided a new challenge to many workers who have been pushed back into the job market because of family illness or divorce, or because their savings accounts have been eviscerated.
But for the poorest and most vulnerable workers, like Lindstrom, these trends have been especially profound. Many appear on the brink of homelessness, faced every day with choices between basic necessities.
Now, a survey of more than 2,000 low-income unemployed workers age 55-plus shows the depths of the problems they face. The study, released Tuesday, was conducted by Experience Works, a nonprofit group that provides training and assistance to low-income older workers.
The organization—similar to one operated by the AARP Foundation—helps older low-income people get community service jobs through local nonprofit agencies, and it’s part of the federal Senior Community Service Employment Program. The aim is to help people gain the experience needed to transition to permanent unsubsidized employment.
The group found that some 46 percent of older low-income workers needed to find jobs to avoid losing their homes or apartments. A similar percentage said they often had to choose among paying rent, purchasing food or purchasing medication.
The study also showed that the prospects of landing work were grim: Nearly half of those surveyed said they had been looking for work for more than a year. The average time a low-income unemployed older worker spent looking for work was 52 weeks—more than double the rate for all unemployed workers.
Even before the economy unraveled, of course, older workers faced challenges in reentering the workplace, such as lack of training or age discrimination. But the recession has compounded their difficulties.