California’s unemployment crisis takes many forms. One of the most pernicious is that it disproportionately impacts young workers, 34% of whom are unemployed in California today (in this case, “young” is defined as ages 16 to 19). Many young workers, unable to go to college and needing to support themselves and their families, are having an extremely difficult time finding work. This not only cripples their financial position here in 2010, but has lasting negative impacts on their lifetime careers and earning potential.
One reason they’re having a hard time finding jobs is that they’re competing against workers who shouldn’t be in the workforce at all. A San Francisco Chronicle article today showed that working seniors outnumber working teens. In the article, “seniors” are defined as people age 65 and older:
For the first time on record, senior citizens outnumber teens in the labor force as the Great Recession accentuates trends that make it harder for young people to find jobs and more likely for older workers to delay retirement….
Experts say that over the past decade older workers have tended to hang on to their paychecks longer, owing to sagging stock portfolios and falling home prices.
This shift toward an aging workforce has been disastrous for 16- to 19-year-olds, who face unemployment rates of 25 percent nationwide and 34 percent in California, similar to the Great Depression.
“It’s killing kids,” said Andrew Sum, director of the center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. “We’re tossing our future into the trash bin.”
This is an absurd situation. Ideally, people over age 65 can exit the workforce. Social Security and Medicare exist in part to ensure seniors have their needs taken care of so that they exit the workforce and open up jobs for younger employees who have a greater need for this work.
But because Social Security benefits haven’t kept pace with the cost of living, because Medicare benefits haven’t kept up either, and as other state programs designed to aid seniors are being cut, seniors are finding it necessary to continue working.
This problem would be compounded if Obama’s Cat Food Commission gets its way, and the Social Security retirement age is raised above 65, keeping even more seniors in the workforce. One policy analyst argued for lowering the Social Security retirement age instead:
Heidi Shierholz with the liberal Economic Policy Institute…thinks a better way to improve job prospects for younger workers is to make Medicare and full Social Security benefits available at age 64 for the next two years to coax more older workers into retirement.
I’d say that needs to be a permanent shift. As Dave Johnson has pointed out, workers age 55-65 are getting hit hard by this recession as well, suffering from a pervasive age bias that can hit workers as young as 40. Lowering the retirement age would help some of the older members of this group find work, while opening more places for younger workers.
Ultimately, we need policies that benefit all workers regardless of age. That includes true universal health care, as well as government job creation programs. But the first rule is “do no harm” – and the Cat Food Commission’s likely recommendation to increase the Social Security retirement age would do a world of harm to American workers, especially to the young, whose futures have been systematically robbed from them in order to sustain a failing system for older workers.