What do you say to a person with a story like the one of suburban Seattle resident Patricia Reid, the unemployed 57-year-old profiled in The New York Times on Monday?
...[F]our years after losing her job she cannot, in her darkest moments, escape a nagging thought: she may never work again.
College educated, with a degree in business administration, she is experienced, having worked for two decades as an internal auditor and analyst at Boeing before losing that job.
But that does not seem to matter, not for her and not for a growing number of people in their 50s and 60s who desperately want or need to work to pay for retirement and who are starting to worry that they may be discarded from the work force — forever.
The Times story goes on to note that there are more than 2.2 million people unemployed people who are 55 and older, half of whom have been unemployed for six months or longer. The unemployment rate in this group has doubled since the beginning of the recession in late 2007.
Conservative policy rhetoric has been particularly unkind to this group. They hear from people such as Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., that the extended unemployment benefits they need to weather the worst recession in decades is that they're just lazy. After all, do the math: Is there any reason why, with an estimated 3 million job openings as of July, 15 million people can't get a job if they work hard enough?
Sharron Angle, the candidate who wants to depose Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada, thinks that people like Patricia Reid should get off their degrees and high-level work experience and be willing to fold linens at the nearest no-tell motel for the minimum wage that her buddies at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Heritage Foundation would just as soon repeal. (Think conservatives have given up on minimum-wage repeal? Read this article in the current issue of Forbes' magazine.)
Add to all of this the push to raise the retirement age because, we are constantly being told, people are living longer and can thus work longer. No one, of course, is asking the obvious question: "Work longer doing what?"
An economy that is creating private-sector jobs at the rate of about 78,000 a month, which is where we have been for the past three months, will collapse under the combined weight of baby boomers forced to delay their retirement and new young entrants into the workforce. As we have been repeatedly noting, we need to create well over 400,000 jobs a month for the next three years just to repair the damage done by the Great Recession.
The Glenn Beck followers who marched on Washington in August, many of them so-called Tea-Party party voters, did not hear an answer to the struggles of people like Patricia Reid. There are only attacks on the recovery efforts by the Obama administration and Congress that prevented the economic cataclysm we would have had if we had followed the prescription of the Tea-Party bankrollers to do nothing. They keep talking the same trickle-down economics that they have been peddling since the Reagan years, as less and less actually trickles down.
Since the Tea Partiers do not have an answer for the Patricia Reids of the nation, we as progressives must. We must place a top priority on creating the jobs that will prepare the nation for success in the new economy—jobs that range from fixing our roads to teaching our children to researching the next generation of energy technologies. We must make the investments that will set the stage for private sector jobs creation.
A coalition of labor, civil rights and community organizations is seeking to bring hundreds of thousands of people to Washington on October 2 for the "One Nation Working Together" march. A principal goal of that march is "to build a more united America – with jobs, justice and education for all."
The march's supporters include "people who got thrown out – thrown out of our jobs, schools, houses, farms and small businesses – while Wall Street's wrongdoers got bailed out. We are families who pray every day – for peace and prosperity; for deliverance from foreclosures; for good jobs to come back to urban and rural America. We are unemployed workers – forced to watch hopes for bold action dashed – because some Senators threaten filibusters, and other would-be champions fold in fear."
Who will come to Washington and march for the nation's Patricia Reids—whether they are 57, 37, or 17—for whom the recession has not ended and to whom the conservative movement has turned its back? Who will march for the kind of economic policy that is embodied in the economists' statement released by the Institute for America's Future last week? Tea Partiers won't, but we must, pointing the way to long-term prosperity for poor and middle-class people now being left behind.