The Coalition of the Redundant Grows

Hey, you’re not “unemployed”, you’re “prematurely retired”.

The following was written by Rick Sloan, the President of the UNION of the UNEMPLOYED:

As the Great Recession began, corporate America slashed its payrolls. Over 625,000 employees were laid off each month, hundreds of thousands more saw their hours cut and millions – 31 million to be exact – faced the abyss of joblessness.

Corporations targeted employees in the prime of their careers. Those born between 1947 and 1953, the core of the baby boom generation, were in positions of real responsibility – senior vice presidents, middle managers, foremen and women, executive secretaries, sales representatives, accountants, agents, brokers and producers – and many were drawing down six-figure salary packages.

Most had college degrees, three decades of experience in their chosen fields, homes in communities where their children attended the local high school before heading off to college, and voting histories dating back to 1972. They were, in short, solid citizens who were being prematurely retired.

Gender discrimination vanished. Men and women felt the axe in almost equal numbers. By 2011, those searching for work included 2.4 million from management or professional ranks, 2.7 million from service occupations and 3.1 million from sales and office careers. Their former employers proved to be equal opportunity firers.

Unemployed women over 55 grew from a low of 311,000 in 2007 to 1,042,000 by July 2011. Unemployment among men over age 55 grew from 452,000 in 2007 to a peak of 1,306,000 in October 2010. Subsequent declines were due mostly to baby boomers leaving the workforce.

Today 794,000 women and 1,095,000 men in the 55-plus age cohort remain officially unemployed (U-3).  Their real unemployment, however, are twice those levels. U-6 for those over 55 is 3.93 million.

Now between the ages of 58 and 67, the prematurely retired are potential allies of the unemployed.  With their careers effectively over, financial assets depleted and dreams destroyed, their next 20 years will be meaner and more hardscrabble than they ever imagined. But the pain they have endured since 2008 has steeled them for the harsher lives they will lead.

Older, wizened and far more cynical, the prematurely retired could become the most potent force in American politics… by acting as a bridge between America’s jobless and the elderly. Their reliance on Medicare, Food Stamps, Social Security and Medicaid – the latter particularly important for those who face a need for long-term care – will only grow. And future attacks on their pension or health care benefits, if they are fortunate enough to have them still, will be over their dead bodies, literally.

The prematurely retired fit the original definition of “necessitous men.”  Two hundred fifty years ago, a court of conscience jurist, Lord Robert Henley, wrote that “necessitous men are not, truly speaking, free men, but, to answer a present exigency, will submit to any terms that the crafty may impose upon them.”  But they will not submit to those unconscionable terms forever.

Lord Henley’s words were echoed by President Franklin Roosevelt in his 1944 State of the Union Speech as the rationale for a Second Bill of Rights. Today’s necessitous men and women – the prematurely retired – could be the spark that triggers that such a revolution in American politics.

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