September 8, 2020
A Laid-off Boomer’s Retirement Plan 2.0
Jennifer Lee wanted to work until 70 to max out her monthly Social Security checks – at least that was the plan before she was laid off three years ago from a Washington D.C. church.
The church’s newly hired pastor “decided he wanted a whole new staff,” she said. “I felt to a degree he was entitled to do that,” she said – except that “he was only eliminating people on the staff who were over 60.”
She wasn’t having any luck finding a new job and felt that her only choice was to sign up for Social Security at 63½ to pay her bills. Eventually, Lee, a one-time nurse and medical administrator, landed a nice part-time job as a Jack-of-all-trades in an oral surgeon’s office. Post-pandemic, her duties have expanded to include overseeing the COVID-19 safety protocols.
The recession is putting many baby boomers in a predicament similar to Lee’s: a layoff has derailed their plans to work full-time to build up their retirement savings. Since March, the unemployment rate for Americans who are at least 55 years old has more than tripled, to 9.7 percent in June.
“Most older people, when they’re laid off, will take Social Security right away,” but “that’s not their best short-term solution,” said Wendy Weiss, a Cambridge, Mass., financial adviser. She urges them to find other ways to generate income or reduce expenses, because delaying Social Security increases the monthly check by 7 percent to 8 percent for each additional year the benefits are postponed.
But, Weiss acknowledges, the recession is putting growing numbers of unemployed boomers in situations that aren’t easily solved. “It’s not going to be pretty,” she said about the next few years.
Lee, who is 65, was fully aware she should have postponed her Social Security. But it took her more than six months to find her current job, and she didn’t have any unemployment benefits to tide her over, because church employers don’t usually pay into state unemployment insurance funds. She wasn’t old enough for Medicare at the time of her 2017 layoff either.
“I waited five months to apply for Social Security. I waited as long as I could,” she said.
She sees a problem not in the difficult decisions she’s had to make but in a shortage of policies for older workers like herself, who may be more vulnerable to layoffs and also can have a tougher time finding a new job even in an expanding economy. …Learn More
February 15, 2018
The Ultimate in Travel: Retiring Abroad
Tami Fincher dives into projects head first. Two years into a 5-year plan to retire early in Central America, her short list – so far – is Boca Chica and El Valle de Antón, in Panama, and Guanacaste Province, in northern Costa Rica.
She and husband Stephen Fincher are making their plans to join the growing number of Americans-turned-expatriate retirees. In 2016, more than 603,200 Social Security checks were mailed to retirees, their spouses and widows living abroad. They are moving as much for the adventure as for the lower cost many countries offer.
An exotic retirement isn’t for everyone. Even if they could save on living costs, people who’ve never been keen on international travel might prefer to remain close to home and grandchildren. But the baby boomer wave is pushing up the number of U.S. retirees living abroad – by 11 percent in five years, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration, which tracks its pension checks sent overseas. Ex-pat’s favorite countries include Japan, Mexico, France, Thailand, and Colombia. (More are listed on the next page.)
To assess the pros and cons of Costa Rica vs. Panama, the Finchers made their first exploratory trips, to Costa Rica last June for their 20th anniversary and to Panama over the New Year’s holiday. If Tami, age 53, has her way, they’ll retire in about three years and sell their Houston home to relocate. …Learn More
April 20, 2017
A Californian’s ‘Retirement’ is Part-Time
Rob Peters during a trip East last summer.
Rob Peters’ approach to retiring wasn’t much different from hitting the road in 1975 to help drive a college friend from New York to California. He didn’t really know where he was going.
When he first laid eyes on California, he was captivated by its beauty, as well as the left-leaning politics absent in the conservative Long Island community he grew up in. But Peters, equipped only with an English degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo, bounced around for years among the various part-time and full-time counseling jobs available to him in his new paradise.
Not until age 38, after earning a master’s degree in counseling and 13 job interviews, did he land his dream job at Diablo Valley College, a community college serving mostly low-income and minority students. He stayed more than 26 years, as a student adviser, program facilitator, and instructor.
He took a blind leap into retirement, too. Again, finding his place was a process. Within four months of retiring, at the end of 2014, he contacted Diablo Valley College. Yes, they would welcome him back as a counselor for four hours in the morning, two days per week in the spring and three days in the fall.
He returned in June 2015 and again enjoys “the acknowledgment that your work is valuable,” said Peters, 65, who lives with his wife, Suzanne James-Peters, in their home in Benicia with a view of the Carquinez Strait that lies east of San Francisco.
A new body of research indicates that continuing to work but gearing down to a lower-intensity job is often good for older Americans, because it reduces their stress, increases their job satisfaction, and is an encouragement to continue working and preparing financially for retirement.
It’s not all that surprising that Peters “un-retired,” considering how much and how long (10 years) he’d wrestled with the retirement decision.
Yes, the technological demands of working full time became harder to keep up with, the demands of being an older parent with teenage twins (a girl and a boy) consumed him, and coworkers his age were peeling off. However, he was constantly torn about letting go of a job just when he felt that, as an older counselor, he had even more to give students. As a decision loomed, he attended yet another retirement seminar. “I began to anticipate that leaving [academia] would take some adjustment.”
He retired reluctantly and weeded out his file cabinet full of work materials even more reluctantly. …Learn More
November 29, 2016
Caring for Her Elderly Parents 24/7
Taking care of her elderly parents is Vivian Gibson’s full-time job.
The last two weeks in October weren’t so unusual. She tended to her 86-year-old father for several days in the hospital – another episode in his unending battle with ankle sores stemming from service in the Korean War. Gibson also helped her mother, age 81, get through a medical procedure and chauffeured both parents to more than a dozen doctor’s appointments and to their dentist. Her mother has been dealing with a pulled tooth, along with abnormal cells in her bladder and an abnormal EKG.
In addition to their medical needs, Gibson helps them with everything else, from cleaning and dressing her father’s wound daily to buying their groceries and cleaning up the yard. Her parents live in Bartow in central Florida, about 20 minutes from Gibson’s home in the country, and she’s always on call in case her father falls again.
Yet she remains surprisingly upbeat, unfazed by a non-existent social life and a caregiving burden made heavier by the fact she is an only child. “There is never any respite,” she said. “I have to work my doctor’s appointments in around theirs. My mother keeps telling me, ‘Don’t get sick. You can’t get sick!’ ”
To help her parents, Gibson retired from a local hospital just shy of her 59th birthday. She’s now 61 and premature retirement has strained, though not broken her financially. She drained most of her $17,000 emergency fund to meet regular expenses and reluctantly dipped into her IRAs and past employers’ retirement savings plans. Her combined balance is down to $300,000 – or about $12,000 lighter than when she retired, despite a rising stock market. Her lifeline has been a $24,000 pension from her work in state government.
“I wanted to travel,” she said – Australia, New Zealand, Canada – “but I don’t have the money – or the time – for that.” …Learn More
July 28, 2016
Finally Retired? Now What?
It was Gerry Smythe’s final confirmation he had never quite felt at home working in the Oklahoma airplane manufacturing plant. When well-meaning coworkers bought a cake to celebrate his and another person’s retirement, they got Smythe’s name wrong on the sign inviting everyone to the break room.
At age 63, he until recently was one of the nation’s 10 million older Americans working in physically demanding jobs in difficult conditions. He felt worn down by the factory noise, carbon dust, and standing all night on collapsed arches to assemble cabin floor beams for Boeing 777s. His requests for a transfer away from the hard floor never went anywhere, he said.
“It wasn’t really the job – I kinda liked the job,” said Smythe, who retired on May 27. “I didn’t want to stick in that environment in which I was dealing with air pollution and chemicals and decided I’d had enough.”
Now retired, Smythe savors his freedom. He’s playing more golf, has maintained his obsession with the Sunday crossword puzzle, and might volunteer at an animal shelter. But he also admits to something others have learned upon retiring: it’s a lot to get used to.
“You’re transitioning to a new phase of your life, and you’re not sure where to go. It is sorta scary,” he said in a telephone interview on a sizzling summer day at his home in Tulsa.
Everything is up in the air. He likes Tulsa but might move back to Tennessee – he once worked at the Memphis airport – or to Houston, where his mother’s family hails from. Or maybe he’ll find another job. The aviation industry is booming, so a few recruiters have called him. …Learn More
March 10, 2016
A Familiar Dilemma: to Work or Retire
This profile is the first in an occasional series about individual baby boomers who either have retired or are facing the retirement decision.
Jane Kisielius is at that age – 63 – when she is being pushed and pulled between the work world and the retirement lifestyle that her husband already inhabits.
She retired once – temporarily – in August 2014 from a stressful job as head of the nursing team for the public schools in Quincy, a suburb southeast of Boston. But with her administrative and nursing skills in such demand, she was quickly sucked back into the labor market, this time as a part-time coordinator of a wellness program for Quincy residents. She was asked to help run the new, grant-funded education program after bumping into the commissioner of the Quincy Health Department.
“The job fell in my lap,” she said. “It was kind of hard to pass it up.”
So here Jane sits, wrestling with when she’ll really retire, as she drinks her morning coffee at the kitchen table in her orderly home, a stone’s throw from the historic home of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. …Learn More