Reporting from Fort Lauderdale in Saturday’s New York Times, Steven Greenhouse writes about young and old workers going after the same crummy jobs.
This city has become a front line in a generational battle for jobs, as older workers increasingly compete against applicants in their 20s for positions at supermarkets, McDonald’s, and dozens of other places. And older workers seem to be winning.
With unemployment at a 26-year high and many older workers chasing entry-level jobs like those they held a half-century ago, 70 has become the new 20, as one economist put it.
The article doesn’t mention how old the aforementioned economist is, but I can bet you that he isn’t 70, or he wouldn’t find this clever turn of phrase so amusing. I’m 72, and I can imagine what it’s like at this age to have to stand on your feet flipping burgers all day, or pushing shopping carts around Wal-Mart. No one would do it unless they had to—and of course, these old folks do have to, because their retirement savings have been decimated and their health care costs keep going up.
I also feel sorry for the young people who can’t find jobs. But one things this isn’t—or shouldn’t be—is some sort of intergenerational conflict. Greenhouse recognizes this, quoting economist Theresa Ghilarducci, an expert on retirement, who says: “In a bad labor market, different groups perceive that they’re being discriminated against when the real problem is they’re being mistreated by the overall economy.”
Still, this seems like its shaping up to be the latest false front in some bogus war between the generations—which is actually a conflict between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the vulnerable.
I’ve written before about this ersatz conflict. It is also invoked by people who argue that old folks should take cutbacks to their Social Security or forego costly medical treatments so that we don’t bankrupt future generations.
The truth, of course, is that the Social Security system is considerably more solvent than any major bank in the nation, and it’s insurance and drug companies that are driving up health care costs. But neither young nor old people will have much time to get angry about that if they’re competing over jobs cleaning toilets.