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Millions of Americans have been crushed by the pandemic but older workers have faced both an economy with high levels of unemployment and a virus that puts them more at risk than younger people. And once they do lose a job it can be harder to find new ones, with many older workers simply giving up the search. Paul Solman reports as part of our series, "Unfinished Business."
The COVID relief bill passed by Congress will provide urgent help to many around the country. But the size of the aid is smaller than many economists say is needed. And millions still struggle to find full-time work.
For many older Americans who've lost their jobs, prospects are especially dim, their savings ever more eaten away.
Economics correspondent Paul Solman looks at what they are facing.
It's part of our series on older workers, Unfinished Business.
Well, at 75, it's difficult to persuade people to take you on.
You know, I lost my home and my job.
I haven't worked since May. And it's been hard.
I have about $250 in my checking account, and I have $100 in savings.
Is that your entire cushion?
Yes, it is.
Of course, this year has been crushing for almost all of us because of COVID, but especially for older Americans without savings or a well-paying work-from-home job.
I did start taking antidepressants.
My COPD has gotten worse. There's a limited amount of stuff I can do before I have to take a break,
I'm not able to buy gifts for my grandbabies. That's the biggest thing that really hurts, that I'm not able to purchase what I would like to purchase for them for Christmas.
Older workers are really up against it, for a host of reasons, first, of course, age and the bias against it, says 59-year-old Donna Rushing.
I call it the invisible stage of life, where you stand at the meat counter and everyone is helped around you, except you. It's just this invisible thing that happens at a certain point in age.
And, indeed, says labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci:
Older workers have a much harder time finding another job. They're on unemployment longer.
Latest numbers, almost a million people 55-plus out of work for half-a-year or more. And if and when they do find a job, good luck getting anything that pays nearly as well as before, said Gary Burtless pre-pandemic.
The older worker finds it more difficult to locate an employer willing to offer them that kind of a job or even a job that potentially, in five years' time, will get them back to their previous peak.
Office worker and nanny Celia Stevens has been jobless since March, has no prospects.
You just get so beat up interview after interview when they're not hiring you, oh, she's an older lady. You know, we need somebody younger.
I was always being interviewed by 20-, 30-year-olds. And it's really emotional for me to go through that again. That was hard.
Sixty-two-year-old Victoria Taylor, a baker, has been striking out on her job search since her layoff in May.
I haven't found anything yet. I hate this not being able to work, because I'm a worker, I'm a hard worker, dedicated worker. And I just hate the fact that I'm not able to work now.
Sixty-six-year-old Ohio driver Dave Heinfeld cared for a sick wife, told his boss he wouldn't deliver to food processing plants. He was canned.
I just didn't want to play Russian roulette with my health. If I was 30, instead of 66, it would all be different.
Heinfeld has stopped looking for work, as have roughly one million older workers who've dropped out of the labor force in the past year.
He's got license plate arms. Here's his heart. These are from a New Mexico brewery.
Celia Stevens has been crafting to keep afloat.
It's just my way of, you know, let's keep grandma off the streets. I just recently sold some of my crafts. I only made $50. But, hey, so that's like one utility.
At 62, Stevens just received her first monthly Social Security payment, $987, a lifesaver, she says. But if she lives into her 70s and beyond, it's going to cost her, says researcher Nari Rhee.
If you claim Social Security before full retirement age, which at this point is 67, so if you do it at 62, when you're first eligible, that can basically slash your monthly check compared to if you had waited until age 67.
But that's a luxury Stevens can't afford, much less wait until 70 for the maximum benefit.
I'm just — I'm just squeezing by.
Donna Rushing, too young for Social Security, was building a 401(k) with help from her employer.
It was one of my only hope of having some kind of a retirement, because they matched basically a large percentage of my salary. And so matching that in another position is going to be really hard.
And she didn't just lose her job in Summit County, Colorado.
I lost my housing that was attached to this job as well. And I moved about an hour away in with my boyfriend. If I hadn't had this place to go to, where would I be?
Researcher Nari Rhee's own mother needed a retail job to supplement Social Security. But her store closed. And due to COVID, her mom says it's too risky to work.
First, there's the question of, when does the money run out? And then there's a question of, when does my body give out?
But Rhee also has to worry about her daughter.
I have a young child, and I have a mother who is in her 70s. How do I save for my daughter's college fund and then help support my mother when she really needs it? And we're also still in the process of trying to save enough for our own retirement.
Donna Rushing has no family to help.
It really is just me out there. So that's part of the sinking feeling. I don't have relatives. I don't have children. You know, I'm out there.
And that makes the future even scarier.
I could actually really be living out of my car. What's going to happen in 10 years? That's going to go so quick. I will be almost 70. Where can I go to afford to live?
For the "PBS NewsHour," this is Paul Solman, more and more grateful for the job I'm lucky enough to have.
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