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Older Workers May Never Recover From Great Recession

They raid savings, delay medical care

The Great Recession drove millions of older Americans to deplete savings accounts, put off medical or dental treatment and reduce their retirement expectations, according to a survey released Tuesday.

See also: Jobs up, employment down, except for 50+ workers.

While unemployment rose among all ages, the jobless rate for workers age 55-plus reached levels not seen in 60 years, forcing many to give up long job searches and end their working lives without adequate income.

The "Insight on the Issues" survey of more than 5,000 people, conducted in October by AARP's Public Policy Institute, sought to answer how the recession has changed the lives of older workers. All the survey participants had been in the labor force continuously between October 2007 and October 2010 or for part of that period.

"The future is a big question mark for many of them," the study says. "Recovery for persons most adversely affected (e.g., the long-term unemployed; those who file for bankruptcy) will likely be long and slow, and some may never make it back to where they were before the recession."

How workers are coping

The survey painted a grim picture of older adults struggling to cope with joblessness and declining nest eggs. Some borrowed money from family and friends, while others dropped their health insurance, just to get by.

Nearly one in three (30 percent) of the survey's respondents said they were unemployed and looking for work or were employed but had been laid off in the three years of the study; 13 percent said they were no longer in the labor force.

To deal with a decline in household income or rising expenses, half of those polled said they withdrew money from savings, delayed getting medical or dental treatment, or stopped taking their medications. More than one in four got financial help from family or friends.

The findings showed the building blocks of a comfortable retirement toppling for many. One in four (25 percent) said they had exhausted their savings during the recession and one in five (19 percent) said they'd accumulated more credit card debt or were behind on those payments.

53.6 weeks: Current average duration of unemployment for workers 55-plus

Nearly half (48 percent) said they had trouble making ends meet at some point during the three years, and one in seven (15 percent) couldn't always pay the rent or mortgage.

Among the key findings:

  • 33 percent planned to delay retirement.
  • 37 percent relied on credit cards for everyday purchases.
  • 36 percent stopped or cut back on saving for retirement.
  • 12.4 percent lost their health insurance.

Next: Worries about managing finances in retirement.

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