Not “Set for Life”: Boomers face layoffs, discrimination, and bullying at work

I’d like to share with you a disturbing, heartbreaking, and important new documentary, “Set for Life,” that tells the stories of Baby Boomers who have lost their jobs and who are trying to find work in the midst of our recessionary economy.

“Set for Life” is the work of journalist and producer Susan Sipprelle, assisted by filmmaker Samuel Newman (bios here). It centers on the ongoing sagas of three fiftysomething individuals searching for work, supplemented by interviews with experts and information that put their stories in context.

Introducing Joe Price, Deborah Salim, and George Ross

Sipprelle introduces her three main characters in an October Huffington Post blog post:

  • “Joe Price, a third-generation steelworker from Weirton, West Virginia, has been laid off seven times over the course of his 25-year career in the mill, but his most recent two-year layoff, which began in 2009, appears to be permanent.”
  • “Deborah Salim, of Conway, South Carolina, worked for 15 years in the records department at a local community college until she lost her job in 2008 due to government budget cutbacks.”
  • “George Ross, a Vietnam veteran and an information technology project manager in Livermore, California, lost his job in 2008. He searched for work until he was notified that his son, Jason, a Marine, had stepped on a buried mine in Afghanistan while on patrol.”

Having worked hard and done many of the right things, they believed that they were “set for life.” Sipprelle observes that recent years have taught them a harsh lesson to the contrary:

While the three main characters in Set for Life search for work in today’s daunting job market for older workers, they suffer financial woes, self-doubt, and health concerns. Thrust by the recession into a quest they never expected to face late in life, they ponder deeper questions that are relevant to everyone: What defines my self-worth? What is my definition of happiness? Can I reinvent myself? Can I prepare for and accept change?

The bottom line? For many workers, the American Dream is no more. The assumption that working hard and playing by the rules would lead to a relatively comfortable retirement has been demolished.

Discrimination and bullying

It’s not just the bad economy that is doing a number on these workers. Not uncommonly, people in mid-life face age discrimination in their job searches. In the documentary, some of the laid-off workers express concerns about not getting a fair shake in the hiring process due to their respective ages. (In fact, I wish there would’ve been more expert commentary to put that topic into focus.) I’ve heard many similar stories in recent years.

Furthermore, although “Set for Life” does not examine how older workers confront workplace bullying, I can attest that many people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s have been savagely bullied out of their jobs, with lasting consequences for their careers and financial well-being. Anecdotally, it appears that single women, especially single mothers, are especially vulnerable to being targeted.

Missing piece

Despite its significance, the underlying narrative of “Set for Life” was largely neglected by just about everyone during the recent political campaign season. We heard the usual platitudes about making college more affordable for the young and preserving Social Security for seniors, but nothing examining the confluence of factors that has smacked around this demographic group so brutally.

Maybe “Set for Life” resonates so strongly with me because it is largely about my generation — that group of late Boomers caught in this horrible recession during what should be their peak earning years. Their stories of hardship, desperation, and heartbreak are playing across the nation, and shame on us if we do not take them seriously and demand that America’s employers and policy makers do the same.


To order a copy

“Set for Life” has been screened at independent film festivals and other programs, but if this subject interests you, I strongly recommend buying the DVD from the website at $19.99 including shipping and handling. For a short preview video, go here.

Facebook page

“Set for Life” also has a Facebook page, here.


For a review of “Set for Life” on the Next Avenue blog, here.

6 responses

  1. Another great post.

    I think Boomers are particularly vulnerable because bullies target people who need the job the most – single mothers, adults taking care of ailing family members, adults paying college tuition, etc.

    I found these points particularly relevant:
    “they ponder deeper questions that are relevant to everyone: What defines my self-worth? What is my definition of happiness? Can I reinvent myself? Can I prepare for and accept change?”

    These are all questions I’m asking myself. I’d add “do I have enough energy to start all over again”?

    Hopefully I’ll find that energy because I deserve happiness, as does everyone else who’s been through bullying.

  2. Just skimmed through a couple of your posts. I remember studying labor rights from a purely theoretical-historical perspective when I was in high school and college (through the works of Marx, John Stuart Mill, Upton Sinclair, etc.) and it always felt like those problems were a thing of the past. “Now we have minimum wage laws, anti-child labor laws, and fair labor regulations!” I thought to myself. “It’s a different world,” I thought. But then, of course, we have situations where big-box stores are forcing their employees to work on Thanksgiving, which to me is horrifying. I’m glad you’re calling attention to the modern day labor problems, which, though perhaps in some sense are less gruesome and severe than those of the past, are no less debilitating to those individuals who are victimized.

    • Amira, while we’ve made progress, there’s a long way to go. American labor protections need to be strengthened in some ways, and existing ones require stronger enforcement. Overall, the presence of protective laws doesn’t ensure that employers will treat their workers with dignity. So…it’s a process of steady progress mixed with some genuine setbacks.

  3. This resonates so deeply with me and among some of my (former coworkers); I am a 63 yr old MBA-educated professional who was employed in corporate and management level positions in financial services for 25 years. I was downsized in 2009, and have been unemployed ever since. There is definitely age-discrimination in the hiring process. I have been asked “at this stage of your life, do you want to take on such a rigorous assignment?”; “do you think you may be overqualified for this position?”; and other more obvious questions which clearly indicate an age bias. One of my former co-workers, a man with two masters degrees in Math and an MBA, is now working on the loading dock at Trader Joe’s on the overnight shift. He has two children in college; for me, thankfully, my children are grown. We have no savings left and the creditors call daily. The IRS and state revenue departments are after us for back taxes and our mortgage payment is perpetually on the verge of delinquency. My husband, 10 years older than I, still works, but there is never enough cash to cover all the bills. We have our health, and for that we are grateful. There are many other people who are worse off and we have learned to live each day without worrying about what might happen tomorrow. It works!

  4. Pingback: The Strategic Plan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: