Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.
HomeManifestoePublishingCreditsPast Issues

By Susan M. Sipprelle
Englewood, NJ, USA

Susan M. Sipprelle
Susan M. Sipprelle

This November, American Public Television will release Set for Life*, our award-winning documentary about the plight of Baby Boomers who lost their jobs in the Great Recession and still strive to recover. The broadcast of Set for Life is funded in part by the AARP Foundation that is working with struggling Americans 50-plus to help them win back opportunity.

Set for Life follows three Boomers as they try to cope with the financial, physical and psychological impact of job loss. The film puts a human face on the ongoing unemployment crisis, but also sets individual experiences in a broader national economic context. More than seventy-five percent of Americans either lost their job or know some else in their own family or circle of acquaintances who was laid off in the Great Recession. The ripple effects of such widespread job loss are far from over.

Almost 4.3 million Americans still suffer from long-term unemployment, five years after the economic downturn officially ended. The two defining characteristics of the long-term unemployed are: 1) they are older, and 2) they lost their last job.

In fact, for millions of older workers, the issue of unemployment or, even more relevant, underemployment has evolved only from the acute crisis they experienced during the Great Recession into a chronic problem that will not go away. Their loss of faith in their ability to earn a decent living despite their willingness to work hard has permanently eroded their concept of the American Dream and their belief in the future, not only for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren.

They write about their plight on our Over 50 and Out of Work website, the online project that evolved into our documentary, and they post on our Facebook page. Here's one example:

Can't stop crying. Feel like a failure. Divorced almost five years and can't get a "career" going, now aged 52. Relocated now for three months to a different area and I really feel I am being discriminated against because of my age. They send you a rejection letter the next day! Jobs I would have gotten in a heartbeat –or at least gotten an interview for – 25 or 30 years ago. I want to be a good example to my daughter, who is in college and "undecided". How can I when I can't even get something going for myself? I have a degree in education, but state certification will take two more years of school and money I don't have. I'd almost rather go into something else. Open to advice. I'm near D.C. Seems like we SHOULD protest or something. We're an unseen, unheard minority.

And another:

What if:
1) You lost your home in foreclosure?
2) 3 days later, your husband of 17 years jumped off a bridge in despair leaving you alone at age 50, with no life insurance, no money, nothing?
3) What if a few weeks later, you lost everything else, too – all your possessions, even your pets because you didn't have a home for them…or you?
4) What if, in addition to all of the above, bill collectors you didn't know existed came out of the woodwork to nail the widow of the husband who jumped off the bridge because he put her name on debts without her knowledge?
5) What if, in addition, Social Security told her she was 'too young' to qualify for Widow's Benefits because she wasn't 60?
6) What if no one will hire her because she's 'too old' and she receives rejection letter after rejection letter?
I wish I had something to sell. Someone else sold my soul. There is an expression, 'worth more dead than alive.' I am the model for that expression.

Susan M. Sipprelle

We are delighted that American Public Television has chosen Set for Life as one of its fall shows, and we are grateful to AARP Foundation for its support, but we are filmmakers, not employers or policymakers, and our documentary cannot help millions of people get back to work unless others take heed and act.

"Just want to hug the Tofutti CEO," Carol Parker posted on our Facebook page in response to the Associated Press story about David Mintz's willingness to hire older workers, who comprise one-third of Tofutti's workforce.

In 2010, when we began our interviews for Over 50 and Out of Work and Set for Life, economists at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. predicted that employers would gradually begin to value older workers because they would be needed in the future U.S. labor force. When we followed up and asked how long they thought this readjustment would take, they said 10 years after the end of the Great Recession. Their projection offers very cold comfort to millions of Boomers who continue to suffer from the consequences of prolonged unemployment or underemployment in the present, but maybe we are approaching the halfway point now.

This fall, when Set for Life premieres on public television stations across the country, we hope that our documentary will accelerate this labor force adjustment process so that Americans who are 50-plus and jobless can get back to work sooner rather than never.

*Check local listings for broadcast dates and times. We will also post them on our Over 50 and Out of Work documentary page as they become available.



Susan M. Sipprelle is a multimedia documentary maker, a journalist and a photographer. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 2008, and is the mother of five children.

OVER 50 AND OUT OF WORK is an ongoing multimedia project that documents the impact of the Great Recession on jobless Americans, 50 and older. Boomers, generally regarded as self-centered and indulgent, reveal unexpected depths of faith, perseverance and resilience through their life stories.

All opinions expressed by Susan M. Sipprelle are solely her own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

Thirsty Home

Stay Thirsty Store