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Helping Across Generations: A Qualitative Study of Retirement Challenges among Unionized Workers

Union jobs have been declining since their peak in the 1950s. These jobs were once the backbone of the middle class in the United States, providing livable wages and good benefits, including pensions, for those without four-year college degrees. Declines in union membership might also have effects beyond those experienced by individual workers.

When fewer workers have access to good-paying jobs and benefits, and when public benefits are difficult to access, those with union ties may find themselves serving as a private safety net, sharing their resources across households and generations. While this help may be crucial to struggling family members, how do workers balance help with their own economic needs? How do union retirees navigate retirement and provide help on a fixed income?

Using longitudinal qualitative interviews with workers and retirees from unionized jobs, this study investigates the ways that these adults provide help (both financial and practical) to their adult children, extended kin, and others; how providing this help affects family relationships; and how serving as a private safety net is perceived to affect their economic well-being, particularly planning for and in retirement.

Credit Where It’s Due: Rethinking Financial Citizenship

Abandoned Families: Social Isolation in the 21st Century

CID Team Members:

Kristin Seefeldt

Research Areas:
Social Mobility


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