Thursday, February 14, 2013

Baby Boomers Die Hard...

...if Long-Term Unemployed.

If you're a regular viewer of Fox News, you might believe that ever since President Obama was first elected, millions of Americans were quitting their jobs to go on Social Security disability. I once heard John Stossel say [paraphrased] "People are thinking to themselves, 'Why should I go work when I can just lay in bed all day and collect $40,000 a year?' "

While it's true that there was a large spike in Social Security disability claims over the past four's no great wonder, millions of Baby Boomers are coming of age.

It's no mystery, it's just the demographics of the country. It's not JUST because of a bad economy that more people have been applying for disability; nor is because of what Bill O'Reilly suggested, that people just one day decided to quit their jobs to go on the government dole.

And just filing a claim for Social Security disability is one thing; but eventually being approved is an entirely different matter. And people don't quit their jobs just to pursue a claim. It would be a very huge financial risk. Most people do so when they have no other choice, not to "game" the system, or because they're too lazy to go to work.

It's irresponsible and dangerous for Fox News to be constantly putting their ideological slant on the facts. Many of our fellow Americans are being grievously harmed by their "conservative" agenda.

Statisticians, economists, and others who study the census data, have known about our aging population for many years, so it shouldn't have been a big surprise that claims for Social Security would eventually rise.

The Great Recession and the massive layoffs, in conjunction to the aging Baby Boomers, just happened to coincide together to make the "perfect storm".

There are about 78 million Baby Boomers, those who were born between 1944 and 1964 (and would be between the ages of 49 and 69 today). Between 2011 and 2029 most will reach the "traditional" Social Security retirement age of 65 to 67 --- unless the Republicans have their way, and raise the eligibility age (again) to 70 years old.

The Wall Street Journal referred to two studies that they claim show people seek Social Security disability payments when their unemployment benefits are exhausted --- and they also claim the connection shows that many people now view Social Security disability as an extended unemployment program.

The number of Americans cited by the Wall Street Journal who were receiving Social Security disability benefits was 10.6 million. But I just checked, and according the Social Security Administration, as of December 2012 there were only 8.8 million disabled workers. with an average monthly benefit amount of $1,130.34 --- plus 1.9 million children, who never received any unemployment benefits at all.

And only 10% of those between the ages of 50 and 65, apply for Social Security disability benefits after they run out of unemployment insurance. And there's a good reason for that too.

As far as just the Baby Boomers are concerned, it's very understandable; especially if they've worked labor-intensive jobs while standing on their feet all day long during their entire working lives...for 40 or 50 years. The skeletons of Egyptian pyramid workers commonly showed signs of arthritis and other ailments. It's much different than just sitting at a desk all day.

And even more so if the Boomer had been laid off and had remained idle for the past 3 to 5 years. Because then they might also have developed varying degrees of atrophy; meaning, just by BEING long-term unemployed can CAUSE a disability.

While although state Medicaid might cover the cost of physical therapy, and if one had not lost their car, just getting back and forth to a therapist could be difficult, especially if the nearest bus stop was over a mile away.

But even then, according to another report that was cited by the New York Times, "a worker between the ages 50 and 61, and who had been unemployed for 17 months or longer, only had about a 9 percent chance of ever finding a new job." So even if a Boomer were still physically fit (even if they only had a GED), they might only have a slightly better chance of ever finding work again.

Laid off Boomers are also most likely to be the victims of age discrimination, because employers can easily find a young, energetic worker who will readily accept lower pay, and who can potentially stick around for much longer --- or employers might hire someone with special skills from another country with an H-B1 VISA, and also pay them much less.

Since the Great Recession began, some older workers have been out of work for five years or longer, caught between a rock and a hard place, because no one will hire them and they are not yet old enough to qualify for regular Social Security or Medicare.

All in all, the Baby Boomers were the greatest victims of the recession and its grim aftermath. These Americans in their 50s and early 60s — those near retirement age who do not yet have access to Medicare and Social Security — have lost the most earnings power of any age group

And a recent study by economists at Wellesley College found that people who lost their jobs in the few years before becoming eligible for Social Security, also lost up to three years from their life expectancy, largely because they no longer had access to affordable health care.

With their nest eggs decimated by the financial crisis, many Boomers who are still working cannot afford to retire. Or, if they're unemployed but old enough (and needed money to live and eat), they might sign up for early Social Security --- sentencing themselves for the rest of their lives to only two-thirds of the benefit they would have normally received had they been allowed to work until full retirement age.

Taking Social Security at age 62 not only means a drastically reduced income, but no affordable health coverage for three more years until they can qualify for Medicare at 65. And the Republicans want to raise that age requirement to 70 as well, saying we all live longer, when really, it's mostly the rich who usually live longer.

New research also suggests that long-term unemployed Boomers may die sooner too, because their health, income security and mental well-being were battered by the Great Recession at a crucial time in their lives. The study cited also found that for people in that age group, the long-term unemployed were also more prone to suicide.

So love a Baby Boomer today, and don't cut them off from Social Security disability. Give the sons and daughters of "The Greatest Generation" a chance to live out the rest of their lives with some hope and dignity.

And tell Bill O'Reilly to go to hell.

Yippee ki-yay!

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was also posted at the Daily Kos

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