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Why more older workers are finding themselves unemployed as retirement approaches

Many Americans plan to save for retirement in their 50s. But what happens if you're laid off at that age instead? According to researchers, the situation is common, and older workers have a harder time finding a new job -- especially one that pays their previous salary. Economics correspondent Paul Solman talks to 59-year-old Jaye Crist, who works three jobs for 70 percent of his former income.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Many Americans say they focus on saving for retirement when they reach their 50s. But what happens if you lose your job at that age?

    Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, and his producer, Diane Lincoln Estes, look at that challenge as part of our Making Sense series Unfinished Business.

  • Paul Solman:

    Every morning, 59-year-old Jaye Crist leaves his home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and drives to work at a local print shop.

  • Jaye Crist:

    I'm a fulfillment associate fulfilling individual orders, and then making sure that all the product that is printed and needs to be distributed locally is delivered, so, like a delivery driver.

  • Paul Solman:

    Crist spent his career in a higher echelon of the printing industry than this. For almost 30 years, Crist was a manager at printing giant RR Donnelley.

  • Jaye Crist:

    I have always supervised, always managed. And there was part of me, like, this — I will be one of those guys that retires here.

  • Paul Solman:

    No such luck. He was laid off in 2016, his plans derailed when the firm reorganized.

    Economist Richard Johnson's work has shown that Crist is far from alone.

  • Richard Johnson:

    We found that more than half, 56 percent, of workers experience an involuntary employer-related job separation after age 50.

  • Paul Solman:

    Crist, who'd made $100,000 a year, began looking for a comparable job. But he soon realized:

  • Jaye Crist:

    Where I had been after all those years, with salary and benefits and things, was what I was going to get if I stayed here.

    But also, at the same time, I'm looking at — I still had kids in school. I had bought a house, all the things that kind of hold you to a place.

  • Paul Solman:

    Crist is a case in point of what, in our ostensibly booming economy, so many workers in their 50s and older face these days, says Professor Teresa Ghilarducci.

  • Teresa Ghilarducci:

    They're less mobile. Older workers are sticky to their geographical place. They have relationships with people in the community. They have a house, for all the reasons that we all know. And so they can't move to get a better job.

  • Paul Solman:

    Crist also faced another hurdle shared with Americans turning his age, 59, 400 of us every single minute.

  • Jaye Crist:

    A lot of companies don't want to hire somebody who's 50-plus and needs — you know, has a salary expectation that's above what they're willing to pay. So they can easily say it's because of salary or wage.

  • Paul Solman:

    Crist only found the job at local H&H Printing after about a year of looking.

  • Jaye Crist:

    Had to take a heck of a cut in pay, but I was happy about it. It's hourly. It's about $40,000 a year.

  • Paul Solman:

    That's not unusual, says Richard Johnson.

  • Richard Johnson:

    Almost all workers who lose a job at older ages end up making much less on the new job than they did on the old job. We found that only 10 percent of people earned as much on the new job as on the old job, and, on average, they tended to earn only about half as much.

  • Paul Solman:

    Crist's printing job doesn't pay enough, so he also works nights, from 7:30 to 2:00 a.m., at Planet Fitness for $12 an hour.

  • Jaye Crist:

    If it's your front counter service, and you're checking people in, and you're helping them — you know, helping them with their memberships. So it's about four-and-a-half-hours of sleep during the week that I'm getting.

  • Paul Solman:

    Half-a-night's sleep, and then back to H&H Printing.

  • Jaye Crist:

    If I wanted to lay down right now and fall asleep, it would be easy.

  • Paul Solman:

    But he can't, not even on Sundays, when Crist heads to a third job at a local brewery.

  • Jaye Crist:

    It's nice to get, you know, a little bit of cash for tips, because it's just a minimum wage job otherwise, because then you have a little extra money, and you're not waiting, you know, between paychecks, and having to manage all of that.

  • Paul Solman:

    With three jobs, plus a $14,000-a-year pension from RR Donnelly, Crist still brings in barely 70 percent of his previous income.

  • Jaye Crist:

    Can I manage to continue to work this many hours, these many — this many jobs? My mind says I can, I will, I have to. If I start thinking I can't or it's too hard, then, mentally, I don't — I wouldn't — you wouldn't be able to manage it.

    So, so long as I'm, you know — stay healthy and can manage it, and — I will have to.

  • Paul Solman:

    Crist's younger daughter is in college. His wife's depression and anxiety have worsened since his layoff, preventing her from working.

  • Jaye Crist:

    I see my wife and her — you know, the depression and the physical things that she's gone through.

    And so there's that part of it, too, just the economics of, you know, care, medicine these days is just — it's outrageous. It's like we're — you — so, I try not to think about that, because that almost would put you over the edge. You just do whatever you got to do to keep everything else afloat. But…

  • Paul Solman:

    So, many older workers are struggling to do just that, says Ghilarducci.

  • Teresa Ghilarducci:

    When you look at real lives, and you see the turmoil in their work life between, let's say, 59 to 63, and their health, there's a lot of shocks that are going on with their spouse and with themselves, because they're interdependent.

  • Paul Solman:

    Which raises the stakes for workers like Jaye Crist to stay healthy.

  • Jaye Crist:

    I was unloading off of one of the trucks and fell onto my shoulder and back. Thank God I didn't break anything, I didn't, you know, tear anything, I didn't cut anything. I didn't lose any days of work. And it wasn't you know — it was — I was just lucky as hell. And then I thought, man, that's all it would've taken.

  • Paul Solman:

    Traditional retirement, as for so many once-secure older Americans, is out of the question.

  • Jaye Crist:

    I pretty much blew through all of the 401(k) stuff I had.

    So, at this point, here's, there's like really no savings. I mean, this — the house, and still paying a mortgage on it is — that's what I have. It's frustrating that, you know, in my mind, somebody who's done the things you kind of were told as a kid and as you were growing up you needed to do, you know, stay at a job, work, learn, you know, be helpful, get promotions, do right by people.

    And then you find yourself at this point in your career, like, going, that doesn't mean (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

  • Paul Solman:

    Crist now understands what he didn't when he was in the manager's seat.

  • Jaye Crist:

    I had to lay off an entire family, a husband, and wife and daughter. And I — prior to that, I kept telling them, you guys need to try to do something. You need to try to find something.

    Now I find myself in that situation, like, going, that's that wasn't really helpful to be able to say those things, because you can't just go out, find another job. And I was the guy who laid them off. And at least I'm not that (EXPLETIVE DELETED) anymore.

  • Paul Solman:

    No, he's not. Jaye Crist works more, is paid less. And now that a third of the work force is 50-plus, there figure to be many more like him.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," this is Paul Solman.

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