smart spending

4 personal stories of the Great Recession

Age becomes a job applicant's nightmare

Karla Sutton remembers her father as a fun guy. He listened to Jimmy Buffet. He played darts in a league. He was known for his annual Christmas party.

"He was everyone's pal," she says of her late father, David, who passed away at age 60.

David and Karla Sutton

Karla Sutton and her father, David.

At one time, David Sutton had $500,000 in retirement savings and a new fixer-upper house in Columbus, Ohio. That was before he lost his job in 2007 when he was 54. At first, Sutton, who had been employed by the same company for 30 years, visited the public library every day to apply for positions. He was interviewed multiple times but never was hired. His daughter believes it was because he was close to retirement age.

"I think he eventually gave up," says Karla Sutton, 37, who lives in New York. "He put on weight. He developed hypertension."

David Sutton drained all but $30,000 from his retirement funds over the next five years, taking on hefty tax penalties for withdrawing early. He racked up $10,000 in credit card debt and large medical bills because he had no health insurance. His house, which he bought at the height of the bubble, lost its value. All the while, he refused any financial help from his children.

"For people of my father's generation, there is so much to owning a home and having a job," Karla Sutton says. "It's morally defeating in addition to being a financial disaster."

Older Americans were less likely to become unemployed during the recession, but once they were, they looked longer for the next job and fell out of the workforce more often than their younger counterparts, says Sara Rix, senior strategic policy adviser at AARP Public Policy Institute.

A 2010 AARP survey of Americans ages 50 and older found that a quarter of them had exhausted their savings while almost a fifth fell behind on credit card payments or accumulated more credit card debt.

"This recession will linger on the way the Depression did for older people," Rix says. "If you learned anything, it's that your retirement savings can disappear in a blink of an eye."

One morning this past June, Karla Sutton spoke to her father on the phone, urging him to go to the emergency room for his worsening back pain. He never did. David Sutton collapsed, dying from either an aortic aneurysm or heart attack, both of which can be caused by hypertension.

"There is a part of me that blames the recession for his passing so early," says Karla Sutton, who ended up paying her father's funeral expenses because he no longer carried life insurance. "He was not in a position to take care of himself."

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