December 2022

Connect with a Senior During the Holidays

Hannah Boulton defies the stereotype of the lonely retiree longing for companionship during the holidays. But after two-plus years of a pandemic, even this dynamic former nurse who’s lived on three continents started feeling a little isolated.

Ally Brooks and Hannah Boulton

Ally Brooks and Hannah Boulton

Then she met Ally Brooks, a high school senior, through the Sages and Seekers program at the senior center in Duxbury, Massachusetts, in September. The program, modeled on a national nonprofit’s workshop, paired up seven retirees with seven high school seniors. It was such a success – the program was Boulton’s’ idea – that a second one is planned in January for a new crop of seniors.

The 76-year-old Boulton and Brooks bonded immediately over their love of travel. Boulton shared her adventures, having lived in Okinawa during the Vietnam War, where her first husband was stationed, and in Karlsruhe, Germany, where her second husband worked.

And she encouraged Brooks to follow through with a plan to apply to four colleges in England and Scotland, including, coincidentally, one that Boulton’s late husband had attended. “I was so excited for her, and of course I’ll visit her” in college, she said. “I just feel like we’re connected.”

Participants in the Sages and Seekers program

Participants in the Sages and Seekers program

Chris Coakley, who manages the volunteers for the Duxbury senior center, said the Sages and Seekers program fulfilled its goal of easing the isolation she saw was affecting the town’s older residents.

A significant minority of older Americans in various surveys have said they are lonely, and the pandemic only heightened that feeling, which already existed for reasons ranging from hearing loss to struggles with the death of a spouse or a chronic illness.

The pandemic, Coakley said, made the center’s staff realize “how important it was to have connections.”

So consider taking the initiative yourself to reach out to an older family member or neighbor. Invite someone for a meal during the holidays or drop in for a visit.

It takes a little work. But the effort will make a difference. …Learn More

Retirees Do a Stint in London – and Why Not?

Joanna McIsaac-Kierklo in Dublin

Joanna McIsaac-Kierklo in Dublin

Many retirees, freed from their work obligations and looking for adventure, dream of living overseas. Edward Kierklo and Joanna McIsaac-Kierklo don’t dream. They just do.

In May 2021, the couple, feeling trapped by the pandemic in their sleepy town in the Sierra Foothills east of San Francisco, decided to break out and trade rural life for 11 months in London. Joanna’s always been a risk-taker, starting at 22, when she moved to Idaho to be a Vista volunteer. London was her idea.

“Joanna says, ‘I’m tired of looking at these floors and cleaning an 1,800-square-foot home,’ ” Ed, 73, recalled. “She said, ‘Let’s sell the place and go to London.’ I said okay.”

The pandemic played a starring role in their big move. “We felt isolated and a little itchier than we might’ve been so we traded an almost-rural area for a distinctly urban setting,” he said. They relocated to London, vaccinated and boosted, in November 2021.

Edward Kierklo in Warsaw

Edward Kierklo in Warsaw

The couple, who married in their 50s, have the two things that are critical to an ex-pat adventure: fun money and their health. From their new home base, they were able to take weekend getaways all over Great Britain and on the Continent. But it took a lot of planning to move overseas.

Joanna, a former project manager in the healthcare field, is the planner in the family too. She found a London real estate specialist and figured out how to ship their Birmin cat, Suzette, across the pond – for $4,200. They flew to London and found a fifth-floor apartment in a concierge building in the borough of Ealing. The trains, shops, and restaurants were within walking distance so they didn’t need a car, and Joanna went online and bought the furniture, pots, pans, and all things necessary for the new place.

“I take the reins,” she said about their adventure. “I lift all the boxes,” Ed said.

They sold the house in California’s hot real estate market to a cash buyer 18 hours after putting it on the market and booked a nice profit. “Anyone who owns property in California is a millionaire,” said Joanna, 72.

Ed, a retired information technology professional, quickly learned that renting in London is complicated. Retirees must go through an “intrusive” and “bureaucratic” process requiring six months’ rent upfront and disclosure of numerous financial documents, he said. But he was born in England – his parents emigrated from Poland – so his British passport smoothed the path to getting a bank account. Having a passport also meant he didn’t need a visa to live in London.

Joanna, on the other hand, did. She obtained a six-month tourist visa, which required her to leave the country and return to California before her six months ran out. She then flew back to London to restart the visa clock.

During their stay, the couple enjoyed sinking into the local culture. …Learn More

Big COLAs in State Minimum Wages Kick in

During the long and tranquil period for inflation that ended with COVID, 18 states passed legislation requiring employers to pay a minimum wage that automatically increases every year to protect their lowest-income workers from inflation.

With inflation surging to 7 percent in 2021 and running even higher this year, the cost-of-living increases are paying up.

Many state minimum wages are now 1 1/2 to 2 times the federal minimum wage, with another round of increases coming in January 2023. Congress, on the other hand, hasn’t increased the $7.25 hourly federal wage since 2009, widening the disparities between the states that tie their minimum wages to the federal level and the states that routinely raise theirs to keep up with inflation.

The federal minimum wage of $7.25 is in effect in Indiana, Idaho, Iowa, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. For a full-time worker, that adds up to about $15,000 per year or barely above the federal poverty line, though many employers are paying more to compete for workers in the midst of a labor shortage.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates that the value of the federal minimum has fallen 12 percent just in the past two years of unusually high price increases. That’s on top of a decade in which the federal wage was sharply eroded by modest inflation year after year.

“These inflation-driven cuts can snowball quickly,” the EPI said in a recent report. “Faster inflation makes it more important, not less, to raise the federal minimum wage.”

Most of the states with legislation on the books to automatically increase their minimum wages had done so well before COVID supply constraints caused inflation to kick up.

Washington, which began indexing its wage in 2020, has the highest state minimum wage, and it will increase by 8.6 percent increase to $15.74 on Jan. 1. In California, the minimum wage will rise to $15.50 an hour for employers with 25 or fewer workers – a 19 percent increase over a two-year period that will bring them into parity with the wage requirement for larger employers. Many other states have scheduled increases to $15 in the next few years. …Learn More

Retiring to Care for Grandchild isn’t Unusual

Retirement can change everything. So can grandchildren.

A new study that looks at the transitions made by older workers finds that the odds of relocating after they retire to be closer to their adult children increase from the pre-retirement years – 16 percent of recent retirees do so.

Some people make these moves, to within 10 miles of family, right around the time of retirement, but the relocations are still happening at least four years afterward.

A new grandchild provides an even more compelling reason to move at a time quality childcare is expensive and in short supply. In the study, the researchers found that one in 10 grandparents who, prior to retiring, already considered themselves caregivers for at least one child move closer to the child’s parents. That doubles to two in 10 after they retire.

The probability of making a move is “higher for older adults reporting grandchild care compared to their peers who do not provide such care,” conclude Megan Doherty Bea and Somalis Chy at the University of Wisconsin.

They tracked some 3,000 older workers’ answers to a regular survey during a 12-year period around retirement. The survey collected a range of personal data, including information about their finances, where they live, and whether they spend at least 100 hours a year taking care of grandchildren.

One curious aspect of this study is that retiring and moving doesn’t necessarily mean the person will simultaneously sign up for Social Security benefits, which raises the question of how the new retirees support themselves. …Learn More

The Shrinking Middle and Shrinking Wages

Henrietta and Joseph Virchick

Henrietta and Joseph Virchick

My husband likes to tell a story about his father, Joseph Virchick, who was a pipefitter for the Standard Oil refinery in Bayonne, New Jersey, starting in the 1950s. It was a union job – the Teamsters – paying solid middle-class wages that supported his family in an upscale Levitt development with its own swimming pool.

The point here is that this pipefitter with a high school degree lived about as well as his college-educated neighbors who commuted into nearby Manhattan. Virchick and his wife, Henrietta, who also worked, sent all three kids to college. When he retired in the 1980s, they had a pipefitter’s pension to supplement their Social Security.

Today, only 6 percent of private-sector workers are unionized. Something else is going by the wayside along with unions and company pensions: a thriving middle class.

Boston College economist Geoffrey Sanzenbacher argues in his new book that while the U.S. economy, on a per capita basis, has more than doubled in size since 1975, the typical middle-class man’s income, adjusted for inflation, has shrunk by about $2,500, to $60,375 in 2020. (He tracked men’s wages, because the story about women, who flooded into colleges and into the labor force more recently than men, is messier.)

“During a four-decade stretch, middle-class workers lost ground,” Sanzenbacher writes in “The Six Facts that Matter: Understanding Inequality in the United States.”

The same powerful forces that have caused regular workers’ wages to decline also fueled the widening disparities between middle- and lower-paid workers and the people at the top, whose pay has increased since the 1970s. To be sure, lower-paid workers have gained back some of that ground since the pandemic began, and their wages have risen faster than higher-income workers’ pay. But the large inequities persist.

Sanzenbacher blames two things for the eroding middle class: globalization and technology.Learn More

COVID’s Impact on Claiming Social Security

The economy expanded smartly in the years before the Great Recession, just as it did before the COVID downturn. But the two recessions were markedly different, with opposite effects on when older workers signed up for Social Security, a new study finds.

In 2008, the stock market slid nearly 40 percent. Older Americans with retirement accounts, wanting to recoup their losses, were more likely to keep working or looking for a new job during the protracted downturn. But skyrocketing unemployment pushed many older workers in the other direction.

Social Security became an obvious fallback in the Great Recession for jobless workers who were at least 62 years old as the unemployment rate stagnated at around 10 percent for 1½ years. Not surprisingly, then, more people overall started claiming the retirement benefit early.

The COVID recession had the opposite effect on Social Security claiming. There was a slight decline in the likelihood that older workers started their benefits early – defined as prior to Social Security’s full retirement age – according to the Center for Retirement Research.

COVID played out differently mainly because the generosity of the federal pandemic assistance was unprecedented. First, in March 2020, Congress approved $600 weekly payments to supplement the standard unemployment benefit and extended them for 13 weeks. In December 2020, Congress renewed the weekly supplement at $300 and extended the benefits for 11 weeks. In March 2021, they were extended again through the end of September.

During COVID, the slight drop in claiming Social Security early was driven by older workers whose earnings are in the bottom two-thirds of all workers’ earnings. The unemployment support from the federal government made it easier for them to stay afloat without having to sign up for the retirement benefit.

The stock market also behaved much differently in the pandemic than in the 2008 financial crisis. During COVID, the market snapped back within months of its steep drop. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 18 percent in 2020 and soared another 28 percent in 2021. House prices also surged.

People with assets responded to their newfound wealth, becoming more likely to sign up for their Social Security benefits early relative to those without assets, the researchers found.

Still, this impact was more than offset by the decline in early claiming overall because more older Americans were using their generous unemployment benefits to keep paying the bills. …Learn More

COVID’s Small Impact on Future Mortality

The most COVID deaths were among Americans over age 60, who accounted for 300,000 of the 500,000 U.S. deaths from the disease in its first year.

A new study by the Center for Retirement Research finds, not surprisingly, that the oldest survivors of the early months of the pandemic were healthier than those who died from the virus. Taking this into account, the researchers estimated what mortality might look like in a “post-COVID” world in an analysis that was based on a big assumption – that COVID’s deaths were confined to a single year.

Factoring in the early impact of the virus, the researchers found that, despite COVID’s tragic toll in the over-60 population, their future mortality would decline only slightly because the number of COVID deaths was low relative to the group’s overall population.

Even a small drop in mortality might seem counterintuitive at a time the media were widely reporting that COVID was causing a dramatic increase in the annual death rate. But future mortality is different.

The researchers decided to test whether mortality would decline over the next decade because the older people who survived the pandemic were less likely to have the medical conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer that made others in their age group vulnerable. COVID’s survivors are a healthier population, they explained, with lower mortality rates than those who entered the pandemic. …Learn More