Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Vicious Cycle of Retirement and Unemployment

A new study shows that US workers are pessimistic about their retirement. From Reuters:

It's important to note that this survey was funded by financial firms that sell investment products to folks saving for retirement. Still, what they found isn't pretty:

* Fearful workers. More than a quarter of respondents - 27 percent - say they are "not at all confident" about having enough money in retirement. That was the highest percentage since the survey began 21 years ago. Conversely, the lowest percentage ever -- 13 percent -- said they were very confident.

* 'Working longer' may not work. Roughly one in five workers said they intend to work longer than they had originally planned, mainly because of the poor economy. But at the same time, almost half of current retirees - 45 percent - said they were forced to retire earlier than they had planned, either because of health problems or because they were laid off.

* Low savings. More than half of workers (56 percent) said they had less than $25,000 in savings and investments, not counting their homes or defined pension plans. And almost three in ten of those who claim to have retirement savings - 29 percent - said they had less than 1,000. Even though that figure might be skewed by age - the younger workers are, the lower their savings tend to be -- EBRI reported that 20 percent of those over the age of 55 said they had less than $10,000 saved for retirement.

There is reason for that pessimism, of course. A look at the plight of the long term unemployed, by ABC:

Look anywhere where jobs are posted, and you'll see more examples. This discrimination isn't subtle. It's not covert. It's right out in the open, stated in the listings: A phone manufacturer looking to fill a marketing job stipulates "No unemployed candidates will be considered at all." An electronics firm looking for an engineer says it will "Not consider/review anyone NOT currently employed regardless of the reason." A Craigslist posting for an assistant restaurant manager in New Jersey says all applicants "Must be currently employed."

So prevalent is this new form of discrimination that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February held hearings on it. The EEOC press release announcing them bore the catchy title "Out of Work? Out of Luck."

One wonders, how are people supposed to retire later, when they can't find any work?

Then there's this story in today's Washington Post, which essentially blames those of us who are among the long term unemployed for falling off the radar:

Overshadowing the nation’s economic recovery is not only the number of Americans who have lost their jobs, but also those who have stopped looking for new ones.

These workers are not counted in the Labor Department’s monthly unemployment rate, yet they say they are willing to work. Since the recession began, their numbers have grown by 30 percent, to more than 6.4 million, amounting to a hidden labor force that could stymie the turnaround.

There's a reason these folks aren't counted, and it has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with the flawed way the counting is done. The counting is intentionally flawed, so that the real unemployment numbers are kept artificially low.

Economists say the longer these workers stay out of the job market, the harder it will be for them to find employment, creating a vicious circle that can spiral for months or longer. Meanwhile, their delayed entry into the job market means smaller paychecks in the future. And if these ranks remain high, economists worry that it will signal a much deeper and more troubling problem for the country: Workers’ skills don’t match the jobs available.

“It can be a self-reinforcing problem, where it just gets worse over time,” said Burt Barnow, an economist and professor at George Washington University.

Translation: If you stay unemployed because you can't find a job, you're to blame.

cross-posted at MainSt/

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