For the record, I belong to AARP. I know the group screwed up on the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan (and now makes too much money off of it), but it’s a powerful lobby for the aging community, and we need that. Membership is cheap and has some decent benefits, and its just about the only place where you can still get a human being on the other end of the phone. AARP publishes a good no-nonsense bulletin that pretty much sticks to the facts.
But then there’s the magazine. Once called Modern Maturity, and now going by the auspicious title AARP: The Magazine, it’s basically a faked-up Cosmo for old people, with a little bit of Reader’s Digest sentimentality thrown in for good measure. As I described it in an article I wrote for Mother Jones last year, it “depicts old age as something enjoyed by good-looking people whose dentures sparkle as they dance the tango or race along the coast in a convertible, one hand on the wheel and the other holding a frosty can of Ensure. Absent are any shots of old folks eating ramen noodles so they can afford their blood pressure meds.”
It’s that relentlessly upbeat attitude that gets to me. In the latest issue (March/April 2009), the magazine manages to look on the bright side of being out of work, in an article called “Laid Off!” (I can’t figure out the exclamation point, which makes it sound more like a Broadway show than a devastating economic reality.) Here’s the article’s tag line:
For factory workers in America—especially those 45 and older—job security is a dying dream. Over the past year record numbers of employees have gotten pink slips. But some are managing to bounce back.
It’s always the same trajectory–the grim news, and then the upbeat ending (which only serves to make you feel worse if you’re one of the pathetic shmucks who can’t manage to “bounce back.”) The article itself starts off well enough, with the daunting statistics on how many older workers, especially blue collar workers, are losing their jobs. But again, it can’t resist that upbeat impulse:
Experts say there are many ways for employees to reduce their health risks after a layoff: eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly. Equally important is spending time with loved ones. “The inclination can be to withdraw socially,” says clinical psychologist Jeffrey Janata, director of the behavioral-medicine program at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland….Janata says displaced workers should try not to spend all their time thinking about work. “People tend to focus on the thing they’ve lost and forget that pleasure and self-esteem come from many places,” he explains. “If they like to bowl with the bowling team, they need to do that. They need to fight the inclination to hole up.”
Don’t you love how they always get people with good jobs, tenure, and pensions to comment on what the unemployed should do? I’d love to see an expert opinon like this one: “Former professor Joe Shmo, who recently got the boot from the University of Recessionville at the age of 55 after working there for 20 years, said…” Anyway, what “advice” like this serves to do is to shift the burden onto the individuals who’ve lost their jobs, rather than the system that took them away. Laid-off workers, especially older workers, don’t need to go bowling–they need higher Social Security benefits, health care, and a year ot two of unemployment insurance. (To be fair, the article does end by arguing for more government-funded retraining and job creation programs for older workers, which is a good idea.)
The magazine also lists a slew of ways that broke old folks can “Earn Extra Money—Fast!” (another exclamation point). These include everything from running errands and pet care to participating in market research sessions to “workamping”:
Combining work with recreational-vehicle camping is a growing trend for those who love the open road….People who workamp travel all over the country in their RVs to take part-time or seasonal jobs at resorts, amusement parks, and theme parks. They can earn $7 to $12 per hour, depending on the job.”
Renting out rooms holds the best potential payoff: $400 to $700 a month. But what if you don’t own a house–or have lost it recently in the mortgage meltdown? Then, presumably, you can move into one of those rented rooms in some other geezer’s house.
And if none of this works, you can plan to attend “Vegas@50+,” which is AARP’s “2009 National Event and Expo.” When you’re not trying to make back your depleted retirement funds at the slots or the blackjack table, you can can take in AARP’s “interactive exhibits, celebrity speakers, educational seminars, concerts and more.”