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Recession, aftermath hit baby boomers hardest

  • Susan Zimmerman, who has three part-time jobs, at her home in Cleveland last month. (DAVID MAXWELL/ NEW YORK TIMES)

Young graduates are in debt, out of work and on their parents' couches. People in their 30s and 40s can't afford to buy homes or have children. Retirees are earning near-zero interest on their savings.

In the current listless economy, every generation has a claim to having been most injured. But the Labor Department's latest jobs snapshot and other recent data reports present a strong case for crowning baby boomers as the greatest victims of the recession and its grim aftermath.

These Americans in their 50s and early 60s -- those near retirement age who do not yet have access to Medicare and Social Security -- have lost the most earnings power of any age group, with their household incomes 10 percent less than what they made when the recovery began three years ago, according to Sentier Research, a data analysis firm.

Their retirement savings and home values fell sharply at the worst possible time: Just before they needed to cash out. They are supporting both aged parents and unemployed young-adult children, earning them the inauspicious nickname "Generation Squeeze."

New research suggests they may die sooner because their health, income security and mental well-being were battered by the recession. A recent study by economists at Wellesley College found people who lost their jobs in the few years before becoming eligible for Social Security lost up to three years of life expectancy, largely because they no longer had access to affordable health care.

"If I break my wrist, I lose my house," Susan Zimmerman, 62, a freelance writer in Cleveland, said of the distress that a medical emergency would wreak upon her finances and her quality of life.

None of the three part-time jobs she has cobbled together pays benefits, and she said she is counting the days until she becomes eligible for Medicare.

In the meantime, Zimmerman has fashioned her own regimen of home remedies, including eating blue cheese instead of taking penicillin and consuming plenty of orange juice, red wine, coffee and whatever else the latest longevity studies recommend -- to maintain her health.

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