The old folks can’t find work. Neither can the young. But, the young can wait it out. The old have almost run out of time.
The New York Times points out that some people over 50 may never find real work again. More than 2 million people who have lived half a century don’t have jobs. About half of those have been jobless for six months or more.
It is an unpleasant observation, but perhaps a true one, that the federal government does not particularly care about these people. They are less likely to have dependent children than younger employed people. And children are America’s future, at least on paper. The value of the young as workers will depend to some extent on education. It is hard to make a case that they are more well-schooled than the ancient or near-ancient.
Younger Americans out of work could be a drag on the system for years. They and their children could be the equivalent of wards of the state for nearly a decade if the recession wears or. The elderly will eventually go on Social Security. Some economists believe that the Social Security fund will be burdened to the point of rupture. But almost no expert expects that problem to be acute for several years.
The federal government may be in the midst of an error that could cost the Administration dearly at the polls. Older citizens are not usually activists but more of them vote than do people under 25. The power of the old as a loosely organized block of political influence has been recognized for a long time. Unemployment may galvanize them as a group just as much as Social Security payments do.
Much of the Administration’s stimulus packages skews young when it comes to jobs creation. Infrastructure building involves many construction jobs. That aim is intelligent. The construction industry has been more affected than any other, save perhaps manufacturing. The elderly rarely lay asphalt.
As politicians watch the years pass they may regret giving up the chance to create programs to put those 50 and older back to work. Only two generations ago, most of the US population did not live much beyond 70. America now has a large number of citizens over 80 and “baby boomers” have access to medical care that will allow many of them to live into advanced old age.
The burden of the old and out-of-work is not terrible now. The social safety network may have made that the status quo. There will be many angry older Americans. Maybe the federal government will decide it is better to take what money the Treasury has and spend it on those with working lives measured in decades and not years.
Douglas A. McIntyre