“…having no retirement ‘plan’ and figure I'll probably have to work until I die. I just hope I don't end up trying to scramble for a job when I'm 66…that pays minimum wage. I'm OK now, but the future looks scary to me.”
- - Sally
“Sally: I agree with all you said. I don't recall reading many posts here from older women who are struggling to hang on in the (youth-oriented) work world in order to support themselves, with no foreseeable ‘retirement’ in sight.
“It is very scary and it's also exhausting at times, both mentally and physically. I agree that I think it would be easier to handle this ‘aging gracefully’ business if I were not so consumed with the basics of paying the mortgage and maintaining health insurance.”
- - Pamela
There haven’t been a lot of posts or comments here about financial struggles because it feels unseemly to speak publicly about money problems and there is a taboo (at least among older generations) to do so. But just because you haven’t read it here, doesn’t mean that there aren’t Time Goes By readers who are living on a knife edge.
One, married and in her early fifties, goes without health coverage for her husband, whose employer does not provide it, because it would cost several hundred dollars they don’t have to add him to coverage from her employer. And save anything for their retirement? Not in today's economy. These are not people prone to extravagance; there isn’t wiggle room in their budget even for an overnight weekend trip by car.
Changes in ordinary people's financial fortunes in our lifetimes ARE “scary” as both Sally and Pamela said. When I began working in 1958, jobs were plentiful at all levels of experience and expertise. Employees could work their way up the ladder and were paid well enough to live comfortably, save for a down payment on a house and still expect to pay for childrens’ college without too much stress.
You probably wouldn’t get rich, but you knew you could live without being frightened about losing everything. All that changed over the past 25 years or so.
The related issue of employment in our later years is just as scary. In addition to the millions of job cuts during the past decade and overseas outsourcing, age discrimination is real, and a real danger for older workers. I’ve written about my and others’ experience with it in the past at some length.
I had every intention of working indefinitely until I was laid off in a RIF in 2004. My young colleagues found jobs easily. After a year of searching and going deeply into debt, I sold my home in New York and moved to a less expensive city. It broke my heart. I loved my apartment in Greenwich Village; I loved the city I’d lived in for nearly 40 years; and I resent being shoved out of the workforce for age alone (I liked my work a lot), not to mention the money I could have saved working for another five or ten or more years.
Ten years earlier I had been unemployed for 15 months during which I’d cashed in my 401(k), at a horrific tax penalty, to get by. It’s hard to prove (a subject for another day), but age had a lot to do with that bout of unemployment in my mid-fifties too.
My estimate is that due to those two long periods of unemployment (particularly later in life when one's salary is higher than in younger years), the tax bite and gut-wrenching debt that had to be paid off, I lost about $250,000 I had counted on for my old age.
I’m not alone and in fact, better off than many for having sold my New York apartment at the top of housing bubble. But I live on Social Security and hope now – hope that nothing expensive will happen which is, of course, a hopeless daydream. Undoubtedly, something untoward will happen. All I can figure to do about it is to live like Scarlett O’Hara – I’ll think about it tomorrow.
I have no answers for these fears we, millions of us, legitimately have whether we are still working or retired. The source of the problem is easy – economic policies beginning with President Reagan that have inexorably transferred the wealth of the nation from the middle class to the top one percent.
Through unconscionable practices of corporations toward employees and tax policies that favor the rich, the transfer of wealth continues while 46 million, including 11 million children, in the U.S. live without health coverage, while some elders go without their prescription drugs or take only half dosages to save money, while two million home foreclosures are predicted and those still working live in fear every day of losing their jobs.
Here's the question that puzzles me most: if politics and corporate greed continue to erode middle class income, there will be no one to buy the nation's widgets and corporations will fail. How does that benefit the rich and powerful who control the economic policies of the country? Can't they see their own demise in what they are doing?
Any answers out there?
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Georgie Bright Kunkel shows us how even the indignities of late life illness cannot dim the love grown over nearly 60 years of marriage in A Second Chance at Life.]