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Boomers and the Great Recession

Struggling to Recover

This AARP Public Policy Institute research report examines how boomers fared during and after recent recession. It is based on the findings of two on-line surveys of a random sample of boomers aged 50 to 64 who were in the labor force in October 2010 or who had been in it at some point in the previous three years—roughly since the start of the recession in December 2007. What were boomers’ experiences with unemployment and reemployment? Who withdrew from the labor force? What barriers did the unemployed face in finding work? To what extent was age discrimination a problem? Who received unemployment benefits? Were efforts made to hone job skills? How much economic hardship was experienced during the recession?  How did boomers cope with economic uncertainty? What were their concerns about financial well-being in retirement?

The first survey in October 2010 completed interviews with 3,950 boomers. A brief follow-up survey of a random sample of 1,030 of the original respondents was conducted in August 2011.

The report confirms that boomers have indeed had a rough ride over the past several years. The recession and its aftermath have left many without jobs, having exhausted their savings, and with homes they can neither afford nor sell.  The surveys indicate that boomers are uncertain about what the future holds for them as they edge toward retirement.

Although anxiety on the part of the unemployed and even those recently employed after a spell of unemployment would not be surprising, majorities of even the steadily employed expressed concern about, for example, being able to maintain a reasonable standard of living in retirement, having enough money to pay for adequate health care, or depleting all their savings. Nor did they expect to do as well as their parents or people of their parents’ generation in retirement.

To capture the intensity of concern or worry about the financial well-being experienced by boomers during and following the Great Recession, a boomer financial concern index was constructed.  This index identifies the groups of boomers feeling most concerned, worried, or anxious about their current and future financial security.

The report ends with a number of policy options that could address the employment and retirement income prospects of America’s boomers.

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