ELDER MUSIC: Drinking Songs Part 1
Retirement Stories – Part 2

Retirement Stories – Part 1

Reporter Floyd Norris, writing in The New York Times on Saturday, had this to say about retiring from the workforce:

”THE retirement dream seems further away for a lot of baby boomers, and they appear to be responding to that by holding on to their jobs if they can. But that may have worsened the employment prospects for younger workers.

“Labor Department figures indicate that the percentage of workers over the traditional retirement age of 65 is at a record high.”

Two things to know about Norris's opening statement: The “traditional retirement age,” usually defined as the age at which workers are eligible for full Social Security benefits, has not been 65 for a decade. As mandated by Congress in 1983, it is currently at 66 and is gradually increasing until it reaches 67 in 2022.

Second, it is a growing and irritating media meme that working old people are at fault for high unemployment among young people. This is not true. As a certain Cajun campaign consultant said 20 years ago, “It's the economy, stupid,” and it is devastating for both young and old in differing ways.

Retired people and those nearing retirement were hit with a triple whammy during and after the 2008 crash. They lost a large percentage of their 401(k) and other retirement savings; many thousands were forced into early retirement during the millions of layoffs following the crash; homes they had intended to sell to take out the accumulated equity for retirement are underwater or have lost a third or more of their value.

Actually, there is a fourth whammy too. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that age discrimination complaints had, in 2011, increased since 2007, by more than 21 percent.

And a fifth whammy: to survive, many laid-off old workers are forced to take early Social Security at age 62 decreasing their benefit for the rest of their lives by up to 30 percent, according to the Social Security Administration.

The gigantic difficulty for elders, compared to younger workers, is most do not have the time to recoup the losses to their 401(k)s; their homes will not reach their pre-recession value in their lifetimes (mine has dropped more than 20 percent since I bought it two years ago); and for those forced into early retirement, there is little chance of being rehired as we are reminded ad nauseum that employers will not take on people (of any age) who have been out of work for more than about six months.

Is it any wonder then that, as Norris reports, “the percentage of workers over the traditional retirement age of 65 is at a record high”? What choice do elders have? Norris also tells us:

"For the first time since the government began keeping track of the numbers in 1981 — and probably the first time ever — one in nine American men over the age of 75 was working in April. About one in 20 women over that age have jobs.

"In general, for workers it was better to be older in the current cycle. The employment-to-population ratios are higher now than before the recession began for both men and women in all age groups above 65."

What Norris does not tell us, however, is what kind of jobs they have. Walmart greeters? Whatever they work at, salaries are low across the board. In Virginia, a Presbyterian minister was laid off by her church in the downturn of 2007. She has struggled since then with temporary jobs and signed up for Social Security in 2010.

"For spending money,” reports Reuters via Huffington Post, “she plans to start teaching a water aerobics class to earn $40 a week. 'I'm not going to get wealthy on that,' she said. 'It's not really the ministry I expected to have.'"

Last Tuesday Senator Herb Kohl, who is chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, held a hearing focusing on long-term unemployment of older workers. At the hearing, Kohl made public a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) which, said Kohl, notes that

”...the number of long-term unemployed workers aged 55 and older has more than doubled since the recession began in late 2007. About 55 percent of unemployed older workers, or 1.1 million, have been unemployed for more than six months, up from 23 percent, or less than 200,000, in 2007.”

And less likely to find work with each passing day. Listen to these voices of the long-term, older unemployed as interviewed by the GAO last year:

It must be devastating to be a young worker with a freshly-minted college degree today, filled with energy and eager to take a first shot at changing the world. Surely you remember what that was like. Jobs were plentiful in my day and I don't envy today's graduates.

There is that gigantic student loan debt of tens of thousands of dollars even before they find their first job. Most jobs pay no more than the did 20 years ago while the price of rent, food, gas and clothing climb every month - and don't forget those loan payments right out of the first paycheck and thereafter for a decade or more. Few of us had anything like that.

But one thing young workers have that elders do not – 40 or more years to build a retirement nest egg. That doesn't make their lives any easier than elders in this economy, but they do have time on their side.

All people of the 99 percent are between a rock and a hard place these days so let us not blame elders for young folks' employment problems. Put the blame where it belongs – with the billionaire bank executives who brought us all to this calamity.

Tomorrow we'll discuss a lighter side of retirement.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Diane Linch: The Girl and Her Dad


For the last eight years of working, I worked part time, temporary, hourly security. Even as a supervisor with a couple of fancy positions, I didn't earn much. There are lines of these hourly, elder workers whose hours were cut from 8 to 4 in the 2008 collapse who I truly feel sorry for. There are also only so many temp jobs that offer seating. More limits to an already non existent job structure for these people, usually women. There are only so many sports teams, conventions, or concerts that offer these jobs too.

My father's parents spent all their safety net on health care for my grandfather. Grandma was left with 85.00 a month to live on. The rent was 50. He had been a university president, and she was a college graduate. What would happen to folks like them today.

I worked full time until I was well past 74 years, and my husband is still working.
Not what we expected, but we were lucky to have the jobs.

When the Eurozone collapses, as it inevitably will, and cheap energy costs hits the stratosphere, I shudder to think of what will be left of our present economy and the pickings that are left for elders.

I've watched my retirement IRA dwindle since being forced to retire in 2009. Even though I take a monthly stipend out each month to use for my mortgage payment, the volatility of the market has still eaten away at this source of retirement funds.

I checked the numbers earlier today and realized that even if I had left all of that money in the IRA and allowed the market to help it grow, I would still show about a 25% loss since late 2010, supposedly when the markets were rebounding. It would have been a greater amount if I hadn't switched all my stocks into money markets and bonds last June

The problem with private retirement accounts affected by the markets is that when there are losses, you never quite recapture them when things are good at a rate that ever seems to catch back up to where things were before the losses occurred

As much as I worry about our current elders, I am more worried about our young people. If Social Security gets gutted, what will they live on when they get old? Regular pensions have been reduced or eliminated in the employment world. I see a future of penury, like many of our citizens faced during the Depression.

I had a dress rehearsal for the 2008 Depression (which is still going on, and we don't any of us know when it will end).

We had a serious recession in 1992, when I was 52.I had a successful upper level executive position. I got sacked(they called it "down-sized").

For the rest of my working career (I retired in 2010 at 70), the best I could do was an intermittent series of low-paying jobs, none of which had anything to do with my career background.

From 1992 through 1996, I sent out more than 3,000 resumes (That's right, 3,000), used every networking tool, and managed to get a grand total of about half a dozen interviews in my field.

At that point I got a job selling men's suits at a department store for $8 an hour.

My story has an upbeat ending. In addition to Social Security, I have a pension from my earlier life, but the point is simple; once I was fired, there was no way back.

By the way, our wonderful Congress can pass all the anti-discrimination laws it wants, to shut up their older constituents.

There is no way, short of giving lie detector tests to interviewers, to police the laws.

I liked the last words I used to hear from the interviewers: "We'll be in touch."

Yeh. Sure. Wanna buy a bridge?

The statistics just keep getting worse and the news is so depressing that I just want to become an ostrich. I am not concerned for myself, but my daughter's situation looks so bleak that I can only pray for a miracle.

Some employers lay off well-paid older workers and hire younger ones with "fresh skills" to save money. The problem is that with age and years on the job often comes invaluable experience and the ability to serve as a mentor to younger workers.

I completely agree that we should "Put the blame where it belongs – with the billionaire bank executives who brought us all to this calamity."

I spent a tough evening on Saturday discussing our prospects with a group of women, all roughly 65, some officially "retired" and some not. Even when it hasn't happened to us, we all know people whose companies disappeared and promised pensions with them. Nobody was confident she could stay working for long. All but two of us had health limitations that would make working as hard as we once had difficult or impossible.

One additional factor: because laid off older folks can't afford private health insurance or COBRA (paying for their old group plan, supposedly possible for 18 months) lots have started the process of getting on Social Security Disability between 55 and 65. This takes a couple of years, but since 2008, the numbers have gone way up because folks have no other way to live! Unlike regular Social Security, people forced on disability this way do deplete the SS trust fund. So naturally Republicans want to balance the budget by cutting SS for both the sick and the old!

Amen. The words you wrote (most eloquently ) were the same ones sputtering about in my mind as I read Mr Norris's comments. I am a 65 year old woman who won't be eligible for SS until next January. But even then I have no hopes of retiring.

Gee, Ronni, if your current digs have decreased in value by 20%, doesn't that make you doubly glad that you had done so well on your past two residences? Good for you!

I don't really think that the youngsters will have 40 years in which to recoup since they are just as apt to have similar, if different, problems from those currently facing our populace at some point during those 40 years.

Wish I had answers or that I thought our leaders had some good ones.

The scary thing to me is that I don't think anyone has "the" answer. Maybe there isn't one except perhaps a growing national consciousness that our current system is based largely on greed and has been seriously corrupted by the influence of Big Money. Do I think I'll live to see that change? No, unfortunately I don't think I will.

Politically, however, we've got to play the hand we're dealt. Although Progressives are often accused of being anti-business and pro-worker, most of us can probably see both sides. We're not stupid. We know that jobs don't appear by magic. Even so, I think we members of the 99% have a better chance of survival under President Obama and the Democrats than we would under a regime dominated by the Tea Party (aka: President Romney and the Republicans). The only thing the Tea Party understands is "scorched-earth" economics. They are unwilling to compromise their Ayn Rand-based, Social Darwinist ideology. Their only problem: what to do with all of us "undeserving entitlees"? They can't send us all to China!

Peter's Drinking Songs post should have followed this post, or maybe it was good preparation for it.

I just wish that those with a point of view that doesn't understand the facts you present here would read your blog. You continue to provide succinct commentary for referrals when opportunity presents itself.

I keep working part time and am grateful I'm able to do so. I just feel so uncertain about the times I'm reluctant to stop -- wondering what unexpected events might cut my basic financial support out from under me. So, I need to keep up my skills and continuously up date them. Fortunately, I like what I do.

I feel so lucky to have retired at the moment I chose (age 60) and to have a good pension, (at least until the state of California goes into default). And I managed to accumulate a nest egg during the Clinton bull market of the 90's, the last time ordinary folks made money in the stock market.

But it's impossible not to feel empathy with fellow seniors who did not have such good luck. Plus no matter what your savings, it can all be wiped away if the Republicans win in November and, as they are promising, gut Medicare.

This morning I was walking thru our local senior center and saw a group of elder men drinking in Fox News on a giant tv screen. Laugh or cry?

I was poor for much of my adult life, although I only realized it later on. After I had children, I went back to school and eventually landed a good job with the government in the late 1970s making about $15,000 per year. When I left government and entered the private sector I doubled my salary. I took a 30% pay cut to go to back to work for the government (I thought becoming a Civil Servant was an honorable thing to do).

Silly me. Government work had become stifling (most managers were control freaks) and I discovered incredible waste (no understanding of where $$ comes from). The irresponsibility I saw turned me into a fiscal conservative.

Some programs are well run (like Social Security) but I am fearful that the government is in the process of overreaching and will stifle what is left of our weak economy.

Because I was poor, I have learned how to budget my money and do not live beyond my means, but I don't need obscene inflation either.

I was forced to leave work at age 64 and therefore do not collect full Social Security. However, I am treading water because I know how to economize. Dianne

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