God help me if, in my supposed “Golden Years,” I’m hanging out by my mailbox, hopefully not hunched over like Quasimodo or leaning on a walker or sitting on a scooter (no offense to those who need them for mobility, I just hope it’s not me), on a certain day of each month anxiously awaiting my Social Security check so I can survive for another month.
Often through no fault of their own – or sometimes, through bad luck, setbacks, unfortunate decisions, costly medical problems, lack of foresight and typical life struggles – that is the fate of many older people in the U.S. The fear that I may join them drives me to try to maximize my income-producing options for the future and save and invest as much as possible, as hard as it is with two college-age children, my own graduate school education, a mortgage, and a life in a metro area with one of the nation’s highest costs of living.
The AARP’s Retirement Confidence Survey revealed that nearly half of 50+ workers and nearly three in five retirees have less than $25,000 in savings and investments. That, to me, certainly seems like a crisis of poverty engulfing our elderly citizens. Think about it: three of five retirees who may live 20 years in retirement may have $1,000 or less in savings and investments for each of those years. That’s a retirement of mere survival.
The survey found that Social Security is a major source of retirement income for two of three retirees over age 50.
The survey concluded that Americans age 50 and older may not have a realistic view of their financial future in retirement and are not adequately preparing for it.
Whether many people could possibly adequately prepare for it in this age is another matter, with wages and income stagnant in perpetuity; rampant employer layoffs, persistent and widespread unemployment and jobs shipped overseas; escalating and unaffordable college tuition; high student and consumer debt loads; and rising consumer costs and government fees and taxes.
In my state, Maryland, politicians are trying to force workers to save for retirement. A new legislative effort has been launched to establish retirement security plans for more than a million Marylanders who would otherwise rely entirely on Social Security in retirement.
U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez joined Maryland leaders to promote the national initiative at the state level: the creation of workplace savings accounts in which employees would be automatically enrolled but would have the right to bow out of participation.
While I believe the financial fate of the nation’s elderly is important to the U.S. economy and society’s overall health and well-being, I contend that the government is overstepping its reach in this effort of forced “workplace savings accounts.” I also believe in individual responsibility and accountability and free choice. And where does this policy leave entrepreneurs, consultants and other non-traditional income earners in this unstable economy which is increasingly moving toward a free-agent model and employers cannot be counted upon for a secure job for life?
As for me, this fear of over-reliance on somewhat meager Social Security payments is one of my motivations for pursuing a graduate degree in mental health counseling. Counseling is something I can do independently to produce income if I so choose, and a career that doesn’t necessarily come with a built-in retirement date. It expands my options, and I want all the options I can generate at my disposal to live life on my own terms in the future.