In 2014, the AARP Public Policy Institute’s Future of Work@50 sponsored a survey that examined how Americans over 50 had fared since the Great Recession. The resulting study, The Long Road Back: Struggling to Find Work after Unemployment, reported that 50% of older workers who had become unemployed in the prior five years were not working. Of those who did find work, 48% reported earning less than they had with their previous job. And that deficit could be substantial: A discussion paper by the Urban Institute’s Program on Retirement Policy found that re-employed men ages 50 to 61 received a median hourly wage that was 20% less than they had received previously, while men over 62 took a 36% salary cut.
If you’re currently unemployed or furloughed, I suggest that you realistically consider your chances of re-employment. Don’t continue to act (and spend) as if you’ll soon be receiving your former income — even if you’ve been furloughed. “Call it realism or pessimism,” writes Christopher Rugaber of the Associated Press, “but more employers are coming to a reluctant conclusion: Many of the employees they’ve had to lay off in the face of the pandemic might not be returning to their old jobs anytime soon. Some large companies won’t have enough customers to justify it. And some small businesses won’t likely survive at all despite aid provided by the federal government.”
I’m not saying these things to depress anyone — just the opposite, in fact. When it comes to your finances, I believe it’s best to plan for the worst and hope for the best. If you can be OK with a worst-case scenario, you’ll feel even better if the worst doesn’t happen.
To create a plan that can help you get through an open-ended period of unemployment, I suggest you:
Evaluate your financial situation
When considering your finances, assess your condition as if you are not returning to your previous position. What other sources of income do you have? What expenses? Do you have any benefits available to you? Create a cash flow plan so that you can see exactly where you are financially, and where you want to be.
Make any necessary changes
If you’ve unexpectedly lost your job, you may need to cut back on expenses. Put everything on the table. Do you really need two cars, or can you sell one? Is it time to downsize your house? You don’t need to make every cutback you ascertain, but I do think it’s important to identify any expenses that can be reduced, and to seriously consider them.
Think about taking Social Security early
Though you may have planned to wait to take Social Security later, don’t discount taking it before your full retirement age. In fact, you may want to take it for a year as a sort of interest-free loan. That’s right: If you are 62 or older, you can opt to take your benefits and then change your mind. If you do so within 12 months, you can withdraw your Social Security application and repay the money you have received without interest, (although you will need to include any money withheld for Medicare premiums or taxes).
Don’t skip health care
If you’re eligible for Medicare, congratulations. If you’re not, can COBRA carry you until you’re 65? Or can you find a good plan on the marketplace? No matter what, don’t court disaster by leaving yourself or your family uncovered.