Boomers And Millennials Facing The Effects Of Trumponomics While Still Recovering From Last Recession
How Baby Boomers Are Coping With Covid-19’s Financial Hit. Boomers And Millennials Facing The Effects Of Trumponomics While Still Recovering From Last Recession
The pandemic has left many people at or near retirement age out of work and unexpectedly living on a shoestring budget.
After Sue Sweetra was laid off because of the pandemic, the 56-year-old widow began volunteering regularly at a free farmers market, where she and other volunteers received boxes of potatoes, onions, turkey and cheese.
“That helped stretch my budget,” says Ms. Sweetra, who lost her job as an operating-room nurse when all elective surgery was canceled. “I spent $40 on groceries in May.” Not knowing when or if she would be called back to work, Ms. Sweetra also decided to sell the Crested Butte, Colo., home she shared with her late husband and move into a smaller place.
The pandemic has left many people at or near retirement age out of work and unexpectedly living on a shoestring budget. They’re cutting their high-speed internet and life-insurance premiums. Frills like subscriptions are gone.
About 58% of baby boomers saw their jobs negatively affected by Covid-19, according to a survey by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.
Many are too young to collect Social Security, which can begin at 62, or use Medicare, which starts at 65, and don’t have enough money set aside. Less than half of working Americans over 60 feel their retirement savings are on track, and 13% had no retirement savings, according to a 2019 report by the Federal Reserve.
The stock market has recovered its losses from earlier this year, which helps those who have 401(k) or other retirement accounts, but not everyone has those investments. Moreover, financial advisers warn against prematurely tapping retirement savings.
Getting a new job at their age can be difficult.
“Once an older person loses his or her job, it takes longer to find a new one,” says Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. More than half of older workers are in jobs that can’t be done from home and with Covid-19 riskier for older adults, they’re concerned about returning to the workplace. “You either face a health risk of returning to work too early or an economic risk of running out of money,” she says.
Everyone defines shoestring differently, and what is a pared-down budget for one person might be extravagant to another.
Where people live makes a difference: A study released in June found that $1 million in savings lasts 23 years in Mississippi compared with 10 years in Hawaii.
Even those who began preparing for retirement in their mid-20s find plans upended by the pandemic.
Gary Stigen, 61, and his wife, Liz, 59, began meeting with financial advisers soon after they married and saved regularly. Over the years, the couple, who live in Coon Rapids, Minn., invested in vacation property, buying and fixing up cabins and mobile homes in Minnesota and Florida. They now own a cabin by Lake Augusta in Minnesota and are paying off a house in Florida.
They Planned To Sell Their Family Home This Year To Pay Off The Florida Mortgage
Everything is on hold. Mr. Stigen’s position as regional facility manager at Cabela’s, an outdoor-recreation retailer, was eliminated in coronavirus-related downsizing, and he hasn’t found another job. Ms. Stigen hasn’t returned to her part-time job as a hair stylist or gone back to volunteering with the Salvation Army food shelf, because she cares for her 83-year-old mother, who has stage 4 lung cancer and is concerned about contagion.
Mr. Stigen started a spending journal and examined all expenses. They cut cable TV and high-speed internet service. They quit the gym and her monthly subscription for make-up samples. “I love make-up but I don’t need to spend that $30 a month,” she says.
They’ve been relying on unemployment insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and obtained health coverage through the MinnesotaCare program. “We are getting by day by day,” says Mr. Stigen. “I’m not sure how we are going to pay all our expenses until we get through this Covid mess.”
Many who are still working are cutting discretionary expenses because they doubt the economy will bounce back quickly, which could jeopardize their jobs.
Project-management specialist Patrick Metzger works on a contract basis and was concerned about the impact of the virus. “I’m 57. That can be a challenge when seeking employment. If the economy declines and my skills are less in demand, what would I do?” says Mr. Metzger, who lives in Toronto and isn’t eligible for full government pension until he is 65.
Before this year, Mr. Metzger tallied income and spending in his head, rather than writing down. After the pandemic hit, he created a spreadsheet listing monthly income and expenses, with variables for what-if scenarios, such as fewer contracts.
He made cuts. “I’m over-insured and it’s expensive.” His “other” category—everything besides food, shelter and clothing—represents about 15% of his monthly expenses. He says he can whittle that down by about 75% if needed.
His biggest asset is his house, which he co-owns with his ex-wife and doesn’t want to sell. “We chose not to sell it for our son,” says Mr. Metzger, who lives in an apartment.
Some people earmark income for specific expenses, such as insurance, taxes and car repairs, to keep track of spending.
Dave Wysocki, 66, was laid off July 1, ending a 32-year career working in the box office and finance department of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Although he receives about $4,000 a month in pension and Social Security funds, he monitors spending carefully, knowing how quickly it adds up. Two years ago, he had $20,000 in car and home-equity debt and needed budget counseling from a financial coach.
“I assign each dollar to a category—food, transportation, utilities,” he says. Money not used goes into an “Unspent Account” and tapped for one-time expenses, like drawing up a will with his attorney, which he did in July and cost $700, and replacing a blown car compressor in June.
Right now, he has a $10,000 emergency fund, which he wants to increase to $15,000. He’d like another job, ideally a position that involves helping others, but isn’t sure given the economy, Covid-19 and age, whether that’s doable. “Can I go back to work somewhere?” he says. “By no means, at 66, am I ready to say I will never work again.”
Ms. Sweetra, the operating-room nurse, worked at a Denver hospital and her husband, who was 16 years older, worked at Lockheed Martin. After he received an early-retirement package, the couple moved to Crested Butte. When he died in 2015, her emotional world unraveled and so did her financial one because she was no longer receiving his Social Security, which was 40% of their income.
She tapped her retirement savings to help pay bills and told her friend Bev Miller, who is also a financial coach, “I’m bleeding money and don’t know how to stop.” Ms. Miller helped Ms. Sweetra put together a budget and create an emergency fund, which grew to $24,000.
In January 2019, Ms. Sweetra, a non-smoker and active hiker and skier, was diagnosed with lung cancer and out of work for 8 months. She returned to work in October, only to be laid off again in March. Her part-time job in Crested Butte as a dental assistant also ended.
Her emergency fund dwindled to $3,000. After consulting her financial coach, Ms. Sweetra decided to sell her house in Crested Butte and is getting ready to move to a smaller house outside the city limits, where sales taxes are about 4.5% compared to about 9.4%.
It wasn’t an easy decision. She and husband bought the Crested Butte house as their dream retirement home. It will always remain special, she says, but “it’s time for me to make my own dreams.”
Financial-Planning Advice For A Pandemic
Set aside money for an emergency fund. Plan where your money is going before you spend it. If you’re in debt, cut your lifestyle to the bone to get out of debt as soon as possible. “People spend, spend and spend and if they have any money left, they put it into savings or pay off debt rather than doing that first.” Even if you don’t have to fret over what you spend, create a budget.
—Bev Miller, Money Coach Bev, Pittsburgh
Plan for 24 months of uncertainty. Consider the worst-case scenarios, and have a plan for all of them, from selling cars to homes. Determine what is necessary spending and cut the discretionary. Stay away from credit cards. Exercise outside—it’s free. “The world has shifted under how you would normally manage a shoestring budget. In the past, when the economy was growing, you could get by with another job, part-time, or in a new field, to make ends meet.”
—Victor Medina, attorney and financial planner, Medina Law Group, Pennington, N.J.
Sell your big-city home and find a nice, small town in the Midwest, Southwest or Pacific Northwest where property values are still reasonable, and bank the difference. Put the money into mutual funds, Treasuries or some other dependable source of income to supplement Social Security. The big challenge is finding a buyer for inflated city property, so you may have to wait until May of next year.
—William Seavey, retirement consultant, Cambria, Calif.
Retirement funds should never be perceived as an emergency resource. What happens when those funds are depleted and retirement is around the corner? Everyone should have an emergency nest egg: what you need to live on for six months and keep in a savings account, preferably FDIC insured, so that it is liquid and accessible when needed. Ideally, most people should work, if possible, to normal retirement age at a minimum—age 65 to 67. You are less likely to tap retirement savings early, you might spend less because time is spent on the job, and it also helps keep the body and brain sharp.
—Gerald Lofkin, founder of Proficient Wealth Counselors. Norwood, Mass.
Try to get through 90 days and then reassess before making a big move like drawing from Social Security early or selling a house. Consider part time or consulting work. Be creative: Siblings have moved in together, and neighbors share garbage cans and split collection fees. Talk to lenders about possibly restructuring debt. Look at health-insurance options, including the Affordable Care Act and Cobra.
—Michelle Young, adviser with Ameriprise Financial Services LLC
I told Prof. McCoy about the 2020 goal I set with my friends: to learn more about investing and get serious about saving for a down payment. She says she has spoken with lots of people who have postponed similar goals—and the important thing, she adds, is giving yourself the gift of time.
“So what if you’re not investing all your money in the stock market?” says Prof. McCoy. “That’s going to be a crazy roller coaster in the next couple of months anyway, so let’s worry about building a little bit more savings into your bank account. That is a bigger success story than putting $100 in Robinhood right now.”
As I talked to other people about the plans and milestones they’ve put on hold and the financial goals they’ve decided to delay, change or reassess entirely, I’ve been thinking about how to break out of my own financial paralysis.
I am grateful to have a job and pledged to be more mindful about what I contribute to my savings and retirement accounts. I am reallocating money from my travel and entertainment budgets toward charitable causes caring for those most harmed by the pandemic. I am stronger when it comes to resisting the all-too-brief online-shopping highs and comparing myself to others.
“The word for 2020 is compassion,” Prof. McCoy says. “That includes self-compassion.”
In addition to the “what the hell” effect, Prof. Sharif has also studied its twin: the “fresh start” effect. Starting anew, with renewed vigor, can mobilize us and rocket us back into goal-setting form.
“If what you were doing wasn’t working, try to be more reasonable in the current situation,” she says. “If you say ‘I failed because I’m not a financially savvy person,’ that starts you down a negative path. Instead, thinking about it as an external factor—like, ‘crazy things happened in the world and I had no control over them’—can affect people’s ability to bounce back.”
Surrounded by my pricey candles (I still haven’t burned down many of them) and the trappings of a quarantine-era lifestyle, I take some solace in her advice. This year didn’t turn out the way many of us had planned. For a lot of us, 2021 can be a fresh start.
No Job, Loads of Debt: Trumponomics Upends Middle-Class Family Finances
The pandemic is wreaking havoc in loan-laden white-collar workers’ households; ‘I will never claw my way out of this situation’.
Until mid-March, Alysse Hopkins earned a comfortable living in Rockland County, N.Y., representing clients in foreclosure cases and personal-injury lawsuits.
In a good year, the 43-year-old lawyer and her husband, Ian Boschen, 41, together brought in about $175,000, the couple said—enough to cover the mortgage, two car leases, student loans, credit cards and assorted costs of raising two daughters in the New York City suburbs.
After the coronavirus halted many foreclosures and closed courts, her work dried up. Unemployment benefits have helped, Ms. Hopkins said, but the family is running low on savings and can’t keep up with $9,000 in monthly debt payments including mortgage installments. “It frustrates me to not be able to earn a living,” she said. “I have a law degree, almost 20 years of practice.”
Millions of Americans have lost jobs during a pandemic that kept restaurants, shops and public institutions closed for months and hit the travel industry hard. While lower-wage workers have borne much of the brunt, the crisis is wreaking a particular kind of havoc on the debt-laden middle class.
Debt didn’t present a major problem before the coronavirus. The job market was booming and median household incomes were rising, allowing families to keep up with payments.
American families with nonhousing debt making over $98,018 a year in pre-tax income owed an average of nearly $92,000 of such debt in 2016. That’s up 32% from 2004, adjusted for inflation, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit research group.
Average nonhousing debt owed by families making $52,655 to $98,018 rose about 33% over the 12 years to $33,378.
Before the pandemic, Americans had amassed $4.2 trillion in consumer debt, excluding mortgages, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a record even when adjusting for inflation. Housing debt added an additional $10 trillion to the tally.
The coronavirus has spared few industries and expanded unemployment benefits designed to replace the average American income didn’t cover all the lost pay of higher-earning workers, especially in or near expensive cities. The extra $600 weekly payments expired in July, putting them even further behind.
“What I see happening here is a core assault on successful college-educated families, which are the new breed of middle-class American families,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “There’s a professional workforce that’s getting slammed.”
Roughly six months into the pandemic, many lenders that let borrowers skip monthly payments now expect to get paid again. They have set aside billions of dollars to cover potential losses on soured consumer loans—an acknowledgment that America’s decadelong debt binge has come to an end.
Credit-card debt has fallen in recent months. But with a big chunk of government assistance gone, Congress is still haggling over a second round of coronavirus relief. President Trump signed an executive order in August to provide an extra $300 a week in federal unemployment benefits. The payments haven’t been distributed by every state yet, and Democrats say the president’s order violated congressional-spending authority.
Unemployment has fallen from its pandemic peak of near 15%, but the rate stood at 8.4% in August, up from 3.5% in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment for the arts, design, media, sports and entertainment was 12.7% in August, more than triple its year-earlier level. In education, it more than doubled to 10.2%. Sales and office unemployment was 7.8% in August, up from 3.8% in August 2019.
Architects and engineers, who earn $1,826 in average weekly pretax income, well above the $1,389 average among full-time wage and salaried workers, have seen unemployment rise to 3.7% from 0.8% a year earlier. Unemployment for computer and math occupations, which earn $1,919 a week on average, more than tripled to 4.6%.
It could get worse. “The pain so far in the economy has largely been at the lower end of the pay scale,” said Discover Financial Services Chief Executive Roger Hochschild, adding that many of “the white-collar layoffs are still to come.”
Lynn Scott-White, 47, was furloughed from her job as a corporate travel agent at the end of March. Before the pandemic, she and her husband together earned roughly $150,000, she said.
The Denton, Texas, couple pay $4,400 a month on their mortgage, four car loans and leases, and student debt, Ms. Scott-White said. Minimum required monthly credit-card payments total about $700. The debt was manageable pre-pandemic, she said.
She deferred lease payments on her Infiniti QX60 for three months and started paying again with unemployment benefits. Her husband traded in his Ford F-150 in August for a lower-cost car and reduced his original monthly payment of $820 by about $100, and his income covers the $2,100 mortgage.
After about 24 years in the travel industry, Ms. Scott-White is preparing to switch careers, concluding it could be a long time before corporate travel returns to previous levels. In August, her employer gave her three options: severance of a week’s pay for each year employed, unpaid leave until late March or continue on furlough.
She resigned, opting to take the severance. She returned to college last month to complete a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology to pursue a sports-medicine career. She borrowed $5,000 against her 401(k) to help pay for it. “I didn’t think I would have to do this,” she said. “I’m trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up.”
By some measures, the outlook for higher-earning workers appears worse than during the 2008 financial crisis. In August, about 3.3 million people age 25 and over with bachelor’s degrees or higher were unemployed, up from 1.2 million in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During the last downturn, that number peaked at about 2.2 million.
Postings for jobs with salaries over $100,000 were down 19% in August from April, while postings for all other salary categories increased, according to job-search site ZipRecruiter Inc.
American Airlines Group Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. have outlined plans to furlough or lay off thousands of employees on Oct. 1, when federal aid expires, unless they receive more government assistance. Business-software company Salesforce.com Inc. is eliminating 1,000 jobs; a spokeswoman said the company is also adding 4,000 jobs over the next six months.
MGM Resorts International and Stanley Black & Decker Inc. notified some furloughed employees they would be laid off. The companies said they have brought back, or expect to bring back, many of these employees.
America’s biggest banks have indicated they are preparing for a protracted downturn to hurt businesses in industries that weren’t immediately affected by shutdowns.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. says it expects the U.S. to add roughly 5.4 million jobs in the third and fourth quarters. That would leave the U.S. economy with about 9.2 million fewer jobs since February.
“The pandemic has a grip on the economy,” Citigroup Inc. CEO Michael Corbat said when the bank reported second-quarter earnings in July, “and it doesn’t seem likely to loosen until vaccines are widely available.” This month, the bank said many customers that previously enrolled in deferment programs are making payments.
Terri Smith, 64, said her job analyzing legal expenses for her employer was eliminated in a round of cost-cutting. Even with the extra $600 a week, unemployment didn’t cover her lost earnings, and she is now down to $285 after tax in weekly unemployment benefits.
The monthly mortgage payment on her Charlotte, N.C., home is $1,550, she said. Her car payment is $550. Health insurance costs $600 a month, and a recent hospital visit cost $7,500 in out-of-pocket expenses. She has dipped into savings to keep up with bills and is thinking about withdrawing from her 401(k) or signing up for loan-deferment programs until she can find a job.
“I don’t have a plan. It’s very dire,” she said. “I’m getting very nervous.”
Many people who have jobs are struggling with pay cuts. As of August, 17 million workers were getting paid less due to the pandemic, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. Some 9.5 million took pay cuts; the remaining 7.5 million are working fewer hours, he said.
Steven Sickinger’s income fell sharply in the spring, he said, when customers stopped coming to the auto-repair shop he managed. Concerned that the shop was at risk of shutting down, Mr. Sickinger, 55, quit and took another job he considered more secure making $50,000—35% less than the $77,000 he made in 2019.
The pay cuts have made it difficult for the Tucson, Ariz., resident to keep up with bills. He said he owes at least $24,000 on his credit cards. His credit union let him skip his roughly $655 monthly payments on the loan for his Ford F-150 in June and July.
He said he hasn’t used his credit cards in months, but interest charges and late fees are pushing his balances higher. Eight of his credit cards have been reported late, he said. Pre-pandemic, his credit report showed an on-time record going back to 2014.
Before the coronavirus, his plan was to pay off the debt in about 2½ years and would then begin preparing for retirement. Now, Mr. Sickinger said, he is in the process of filing for bankruptcy: “I will never claw my way out of this situation.”
The economy is reviving in parts of the country including New York, where Ms. Hopkins lives. Most courts in the state have reopened. But law firms in New York City and Long Island that used to hire her to avoid the hour-or-more drive are now handling their cases online.
Ms. Hopkins is working again, taking virtual depositions, but the volume is nothing like it was. She had six assignments in August and a few so far this month. Pre-pandemic, she appeared in court on average for four to six cases a day. “I don’t know if it’s ever going to go back to that,” she said.
She and Mr. Boschen paused their $750 in car payments for April and May. They got a one-month break on a $680 payment on a personal loan taken for a bathroom renovation. Mr. Boschen said his nearly $800 in monthly student-loan payments are deferred through December. That, and money set aside for their daughters’ summer camp, freed up enough to help cover their $3,000 monthly mortgage payment and $1,500 monthly health-insurance premium.
Ms. Hopkins’s weekly state unemployment of $441 after taxes ended last week, she said, at the same time that she received a $262 deposit, the first of her unemployment benefits tied to President Trump’s August executive order.
Ms. Hopkins said she recently took out a $36,500 Small Business Administration loan, because she qualifies as a small business through her legal work, to cover the work bills. She said she has 30 years to repay it.
College-Age Americans Face Permanent Hit With Few Job Prospects
Young Americans face some of the highest unemployment rates and that could have long-term consequences for the broader U.S. economy.
America’s youngest workers started the year with a rare opportunity to slingshot their careers in the hottest job market in decades.
They’ll end 2020 facing some of the nation’s bleakest employment prospects and the most volatile job market ever for recent college graduates.
The unemployment rate for young people age 20 to 24 was 12.5% in September, the highest among adults. Joblessness for them peaked at nearly 26% at the height of the pandemic in April — quadruple the level two months earlier — a bigger jump than in any previous recession back to the 1940.
Although the overall U.S. labor market is gradually improving, it remains far below its pre-pandemic health. Jobless claims fell to 787,000 in the week ended Oct. 17 at the same time that the number of Americans on extended unemployment benefits rose, according to Labor Department data.
Economists say the longer that young people are forced to delay their careers, the worse their prospects will be in the future to hold a job, accumulate wealth, or even get married or start a family.
For Tessa Filipczyk, this year was supposed to springboard her career in marine and coastal science. Graduating in June from the University of California at Davis, Filipczyk, 22, had applied for jobs related to ocean conservation, marine plant research and climate change advocacy. But none of those have panned out.
Now, she’s tutoring three children she used to babysit and it’s just eight hours of work a week.
“I was like ‘OK, I’m going to find a job; I’m going to work for a year and then I’m going to go to grad school,’” said Filipczyk, who’s living with her parents in Burlingame, California. “That all just got swept under the rug by Covid.”
The labor market of 2020 is a gallery of shattered expectations and the fate of young people like Filipczyk could stifle the long-run potential for the economy, which needs a growing labor force to expand.
“There is a structure to the labor market — if you miss the entrance, how do you get back in?” said Julia Coronado, founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives LLC. “If you veer off the career path by necessity, how do you get back into the pipeline?”
The dramatic swings in unemployment this time around for adults in their early 20s illustrate how volatile the job market is for graduates and non-graduates alike.
For recent college graduates, unemployment during the pandemic peaked at 20% in June, the highest of any age group with at least a bachelor’s degree, Labor Department data show. That compares with a 13% peak in the recovery following the last recession.
To be sure, workers under the age of 20 saw an even bigger spike in unemployment rates and young people typically always get hit hard during a downturn.
The recession’s impact on young people could have political ramifications. First-time voters are an important group ahead of November’s presidential election.
About two-thirds of voters age 18 to 29 preferred former Vice President Joe Biden, while 56% disapproved of how President Donald Trump is handling the economy, according to a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College poll conducted Oct. 8-13.
Long periods of unemployment, or working part-time gigs or temporarily in jobs outside their desired fields, can jeopardize young professionals’ future salary increases and opportunities for them to build key relationships.
“They take jobs that will help them live and pay the bills, and when times get better they try and switch over to a preferred career path,” said Ernie Tedeschi, a policy economist at Evercore ISI. “They haven’t built the skills and the professional networks and that puts them at a persistent professional disadvantage.”
During prior recessions, recent graduates were able to build connections through coffees and other in-person networking events. But that’s more difficult during a global pandemic. Otherwise-normal parts of job hunting, like interviewing in person, are also more complicated.
The longer the pandemic drags on, the larger the backlog of young people, according to Economic Policy Institute senior economist Elise Gould. Older workers could take jobs that would typically go to entry-level applicants, Gould said.
Employers “don’t necessarily even have to pay more to get workers with more experience,” Gould said. “So those young workers may be left out.”
Job seekers who face high unemployment rates at the start of their careers may endure lower salaries during the first decade of their professional lives, said Jesse Rothstein, an economist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley who recently wrote a paper about the impact on college graduates in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
Employment rates for those who graduated college in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis remained significantly lower over the past decade compared with older workers, Rothstein found. The last recession also prompted many young people to go back to school, while others changed professions frequently.
Zainab Ghadiyali, 35, from San Francisco, is a case in point. After graduating in 2009 with a degree in chemistry, she struggled to find a research job before eventually landing a position at a nonprofit. She later went back to school to study computer science.
Now, after working eight years in tech, she’s taking a career break entirely. She’s writing a blog and pursuing other hobbies before deciding her next move.
“Getting rejected constantly and being in that emotion was pretty hard,” Ghadiyali said of her early post-grad challenges. “Learning how to write code was far easier.”
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