On Fear of Aging and Death
Repost: (Extra)Ordinary Lives

On Employment and Retirement Fears

category_bug_journal2.gif Yesterday, I followed up on one theme (fear of aging and dying) that turned up in the comments on Monday’s post. Today, the second theme – employment and retirement fears.

“…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.]


You won't get answers from me. I've been living the nightmare and fighting the fight myself for a long time. As you said, we elders were taught to be independent and quiet about our situations. The sad part is that no one cares until it's too late. I truly believe that people are dying because of blatant disregard for their health and welfare. what scares me most is that I will probably be one of them.

"Can't they see their own demise in what they are doing?"

You could ask that question about a lot of things - how we treat the earth, each other, etc.

I, also, never thought I'd be where I am at this stage of life. Creative-wise, I am doing more than ever before. Financially, I live from paycheck to paycheck, sometimes hoping a check doesn't come in to be cashed before my paycheck does.

I don't have a savings, so if my car goes - any expenses outside of my daily living, I'm in trouble. Any amount that comes from my creative works goes to the maintenance of marketing them.

I'm divorced for the second time from a marriage that cost me a lot, including financially, and had a baby in my early 40's. She's a blessing and a joy to me, but she's also a responsibility I never thought I'd have at the same time as grandchildren.

Not exactly where I thought I'd be...

So life can be "funny" with its twists and turns. If I think about it too much I can really go nuts and get overwhelmed by the "hanging by a thread" kind of life I'm living.

So I do what I can for today. I'm responsible, but I savor the moment, refusing to give it over to worries and fears. If the worst happens, it will take enough of my time and energy at that time.

I'm lacking financially, but I'm rich in other areas. I have my health, my family, my music and writing, and in those areas, I'm happier than I ever have been before. There's a richness the perspective of being older gives to these things.

I've been homeless before. I know how quickly you can find yourself out on the street. Each day I'm not is a good day, and I'm sure to give thanks for it in my heart.


Yes, the sharing begins. Not normally what we would do.
A marriage, 4 children, business created, I handled financial end.
Bookwork done at kitchen table with one baby in a playpen and holding one. Business grew and provided the upscale life. Beautiful home, trips, etc. Then divorce. Never did this enter my mind. My salary was a part of husbands "so" I was not building up social security benefits. Also I did not request health coverage in divorce or alimony. What was I thinking.
Not thinking - young and so independent. Also had the thought that I would remarry. At this stage of life
I am thankful that I have not. Business was near bankrupt. I did a lifestyle change
Bought a 100 year old farm home and a farm.
A 15 year income with a plan to have home paid for and children educated.
It happened. Then the hard work of the last 25 years. I have a creative nature. Built 5 homes, created gardens and sold each. Each time came out a little further towards my goal. Finally this year downscaled into my retirement cottage. Built this year and made a move back into the city near my children. I love it. Conventient to everything. But I do not think I can push myself physically like this again. This home was built in 5 months and I made long trips daily to work with contractor. I will add I am so thankful that every home I built sold quickly. The biggest surprize my last home sold in 2 weeks.
I am finally beginning to feel physically better. So now I have my home and small social security and savings with some interest. I am thankful for where I am. But I think that now that I have rolled past 70 I have to retire from the home building projects. My main concern now is to accept where I am at this stage of life and to age healthy. In this area we have Health Spring which comes out of your social security.

Shortly after my husband died my hearing deteriorated and I lost my job. I was 59 years old with no health insurance, a mortgage, and a small savings investment from my husband's insurance. (He had borrowed on the policies and I was left with very little.) I went through all the angst of living on the edge until I was 62 and able to start collecting Social Security. I was fortunate that the investments I made doubled and the interest rate was high then.

My only income is Social Security and it is only a percentage of what my husband would have drawn. I am considered low income and I get breaks on my utilities, etc. Nonetheless,I have security in knowing that the check will come in every month and I thank FDR every time it does.

Hang in there ladies, you are obviously capable and resourceful. Don't despair; you will make it. When one door closes another often opens up.

I, too, am looking ahead into a future with no financial cushion, living on two part-time, low wage jobs. No health insurance, and four years until I can collect my husband's bit of SSI. My house is paid for, so I just have to save $150 each month for the taxes.

Could be worse, and probably will.

No answers from me either. I've always lived on the edge because of my learning disabilities. I inherited a small sum from my mother's estate. She lived on the interest income, but that income vanished after 9/11 market collapse. I'm one of those back at work doing minimum wage work standing all day.

Reagan's economics leave us with the mentally ill among the homeless on the streets....where one out of four are now younger ex-military. (Stats from the SDUT 11/8/07.)

I am not in the same position of you or some of your commenters with having to worry about money, although my desires are not expensive given how I grew up. I agree with what you have said about the recent erosions of the middle class. What I see is that it wasn't always the way we grew up. Social Security changed the world for the elderly and it's what the Republicans would like to gut.

If you remember the stories from the depression, from the years before, when elderly never could stay in their own homes and had to live with their children if they were not stuck in a poor house which did exist for awhile in our country, you know that the good times for the middle class have not been a norm in our country and never have been in many poorer places in the world.

If Americans don't value what they have had, it won't be there. The middle class is being pinched and it's starting with their elderly, but it won't end there. Do we want to recognize that some income sharing is a good thing, that nobody should have to worry about decent health care, that taxes do serve to balance income disparities? If we don't care, the richest of the rich won't. There are some like Warren Buffett who do, but for a lot of them, there is never enough money.

Greed is considered a virtue today which is how Donald Trump gets trumpeted as being some great person. It is up to us what kind of world we want to live in but you don't get things fixed without finding leaders who will have your values. The ones now in power, those who see corporate wealth as the only thing that matters, won't give it up readily and they don't care about middle class or the poor.

Yes, I know what you're talking about. Lost my job due to ageism, then my husband died. No insurance, living on what I can earn teaching English here in South Korea and am resisting applying for Social Security as long as I can. Still, life is good. I don't think I could live in America as well as I live here. It's nice being the Migook halmonie (American grammy) to the neighbourhood kids. Some of my adult students took me on a "field trip" today to Hanil Kongwon (Sky Park), a beautiful nature preserve made from a trash dump.;-) Then I introduced them to my favorite restaurant, a small local diner that caters to "silver citizens," where you can get an excellent meal for less than $2. My favorite is shrimp in lobster sauce covering homemade noodles. Happy trails, folks!

Most mornings I wake up wishing for solutions. I do spend quite a bit of time reading, researching and follow-up for employment opportunities.

Yes, it is difficult to prove any type of age discrimination. In my situation, I have the double "whammy" of age and not enough education. I posted this yesterday.

I offer up these considerations for you of "things" I've learned. If you live close enough to apply for a state position or civil service - consider this option. All you need do is pass the test and wait for your name to move to the top of the list. Scoring a job in this sector offers you a good benefit program.
Another source I visit occassionally is the AARP site which offers a listing of "senior friendly" companies. Again, area is key with this suggestion is the Senior Community Employment Program". I think AARP has info on this on their site. I do not live in an area that has this program - yet, it does sound worthwhile.

Some feel volunteering a good way to network... I haven't found this to be true at this point in time although I am registered with a volunteering service. Being unemployed, I cannot afford to spend trainfare to go into the City to volunteer for a few days/hours. Sad - but true.

As to retirement - I know I will have to find a creative solution.
Recently, I read an article about house and expense sharing - not with one roommate but a small group of women. Another alternative is intentional living communities - there is a web site that you may want to check out.

I have a sense that in the next year or so and as more "boomer babies" start to retire, we may see more ideas - more of our former get-up and creative drive as to lifestyle change - community living and sharing, etc.

The middle class has been taking hit after hit for 30 years. People voted (incomprensibly, in my view) against their own best interests for politicians who made them feel good.

So, how's that working out? For us, not so good.

After a relocation for a husband's new job, I am starting to do everything the "find a job over 50" books tell you to, except the inevitable part about the "hair dye." (I don't think it fools anybody). I am volunteering. I am sharpening already good computer skills. I am modernising the wardrobe and resume. I am networking.

But mainly, I'm economizing, because I'm not convinced any of it is going to help, based on age discrimination stories I've heard.

One other really proactive thing I've found actually helps: Whenever I'm reading a magazine article or watching TV, I turn the page or hit the remote the moment some corporate guy or government official starts bloviating about the "value of human capital."

If this were actually true, we wouldn't tolerate for a moment the levels of discrimination, not just based on age, that we all know exist.

We *will* have to be creative. I just hope it's not in finding good places to sleep under a bridge.

I've lost jobs twice in the past 2 years as a result of manufacturing leaving my area. The first time, I found a job quickly. This last time, let's just say that whenever I walked in for an interview and the interviewer was young enough to be my child, I soon learned it wasn't going to be a good day.

I finally found a new job but it pays only about 2/3 of what I earned n my younger days. And this job may well end in another 2 years, when I'll be nearly 60. I haven't even seen a full-time job for the kind of work I do in this area in the last 6 months. I don't even want to think about finding another job at that age, but I know I need to think about that possiibility.

I'm envious of those who don't worry about their jobs and money and the future. I feel like I'm on a freight train heading for a disaster I can't prevent.

Carolyn H.

i just read this on a student discussion website where i work:

"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.
Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young."

Henry Ford

I know that's a bit off-topic, but there's so much healing and so much vitality in LEARNING that I know the day I quit learning, I'll also stop living. I am not rich by a long shot, but I figger there's enough money in the world. I don't have to have a big pile of it myself. I just need to be able to access it in some way. Whatever the day brings, I want to be grateful for it, even if it's one more advanced degree in the college of hard knocks.

Retirement? Ha-hah! Not in the cards for this boomer. My story is a bit different because I moved to France in 1969. I got a divorce after 20 years of marriage, creating a financial situation which I did not expect. I remarried a retired teacher of Swedish nationality. When we moved here in 1998, our health insurance was $250/month and changing countries seemed doable. This year our health insurance costs $1250, another unexpected development. After a number of low-paying jobs, I decided to become my own boss and started a bed & breakfast in 2004. Luckily, I enjoy the B&B because it is hard work. My ex-husband, now comfortable in retirement, lives on retirement money which was saved, in part, during the 20 years I raised our children ... I do not complain, knowing many are in worse straits, but I know my kids worry about me since I will never have the means to retire.

I LOVED reading this topic and all the replies. I retired from teaching 3 years ago & obtained a position (pays only about 2 thou a year supervising student teachers but the $ comes in handy.) After combing ads in the paper every single day for some kind of work besides subbing (which I am allowed to do, but HATE the thought)- I combed adult ed & trade school sites for learning some other skill. Found nothing that interested me. Store jobs pay minimum wage...I was getting depressed and wanting to make $$. I like working in retirement but don't want full time or signing contracts. I even volunteered in a Habitat store, but didn't like taking orders from the 23 year old high school dropout manager...what to do??? Finally, I had a long talk with mom & she asked me what I love doing. Gardening. Why not put some flyers out and try gardening for others. I did that & after 2 days the calls came in. I have gardened for 25 houses, some of them 5x each. Made more $$ than I did teaching, for less hours. May 20 until Nov. 3. I work mornings only, get paid cash and go home by noon. The work is hard, dirty and I love it. No dress code, boss, bells. I charge $25 an hour, no cheques. I took charge of my life and feel good. And before choosing the gardening thing, I read 10 different motivational books, started a journal and made a plan. By the way, I'm 64, in great health, house and car paid, teacher pension, husband pension..I don't know how long I can do this for, but I love it. I'm saving the $$ for house renos, trips, etc. I finally feel good again. My advice is start your own biz using one of your skills.

Just want to thank everyone for sharing their stories here. It meant a lot to me. I especially like the idea of expense sharing. I've thought of this before, but never really inquired into as a real possibility. I'd love to share expenses in a big Victorian house, like in my college years...young people do it, why not older?

These comments have given me a lot to think about, and one of the things I realized over the past 24 hours is how often I don't ask for what I'm worth in my services. It brought to mind the number of free performances, free music, free streaming, free speaking I've offered over the many years.

You know, it's bad enough when society discriminates against you. It's worse when you do it to yourself.

Now, I know there will always be places and times I'm moved to share my music without charging a fee, because it will just be the right thing to do. BUT that doesn't mean I shouldn't be a better business person, because THAT'S the right thing to do, as well.

Because if the volunteer doesn't take care of herself, she may very well find that in the end, no one else will either.

I see a few possible solutions. Arrest the presidents who raided Social Security. But that won't solve our individual problems. I propose, and will be writing in depth on this, a new way of life for older folks: learning to live cooperatively. While many people will undoubtedly wince at the idea, this is something that we will ignore at our peril. If an older single person joins forces with another person, his or her cost of living will drop by more than half! It's simple economics.

Referring back to a post that Darlene wrote on November 8th...I hope everyone is aware that if your husband has died you can either take his social security or your own, whichever is higher.

Another fact to be aware of is that if you are divorced but if you were married for at least 10 years you also have the option of taking your former husbands social security or your own, again, which ever is higher. You do have to still be single to do this.
Good luck to all.

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