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Recovering from the Great Recession: Long Struggle Ahead for Older Americans

This AARP Public Policy Insight on the Issues presents the top-line findings of a survey of the recession experiences of 5,027 Americans aged 50 and older who were currently in the labor force or had been in it at some time in the three years prior to being interviewed in October 2010.  A full report on the survey’s findings, Beyond 50—2011, will be released later in 2011

The recession and its aftermath have not been easy on middle-aged and older Americans, and the future is a big question mark for many of them. Nearly 30 percent of the sample said that they were either unemployed and looking for work at the time of the survey or were employed but had been involuntarily unemployed in the previous three years. Another 13 percent were currently out of the labor force but reported having been in it at some time during the previous three years.

Regardless of their employment status, the recession was a painful experience for most Americans 50 and older, and many have yet to recover. During the three years leading up to October 2010, nearly one-third saw their homes decline substantially in value. A sizable proportion fell behind on credit card payments or accumulated more credit card debt.

Although recovery from the Great Recession had been underway for months at the time of the survey, the 50-plus population—at least those with recent labor market experience—remained worried about the future.  Overall, more than half were not too or not at all confident that they will have enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement years. 

When asked if they or their spouses had taken any steps to prepare for a more secure retirement, more than half reported that they had, and employment featured prominently in their actions: more than two out of five had decided that they would likely work part-time in retirement. In addition, one-third said they expect to delay retirement.  Yet many jobseekers were still unable to find employment.

Recovery for persons most adversely affected by the recession (e.g., the long-term unemployed, those who filed for bankruptcy) will likely be long and slow, and some may never make it back to where they were before the recession.

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