Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the tag “poverty”

Social Insecurity

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.

Most 50+ American retirees have less than $25,000 in savings/investments.

Most 50+ American retirees have less than $25,000 in savings/investments.

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.

Baltimore Riots Hit Closer to Home

Another liquor store -- apparently not my tennis partner's -- that was looted during Baltimore riots, including stolen ATM.

Another liquor store — apparently not my tennis partner’s — that was looted during Baltimore riots, including stolen ATM.

The Baltimore riots just became more personal.

As disturbing as it was to see Baltimore looted and burned from my living room in my suburban community 20 miles away, it was still anonymous rioters wreaking havoc on anonymous victims. That has changed.

I got an e-mail from my tennis community that a Korean-American who I have played against in tennis leagues, played with on the same team, and partnered with in doubles, was injured (I don’t know how seriously) and lost his business, a liquor store, to rioters.

The e-mail said that my one-time doubles partner “was knocked out by a brick, kicked, punched, batted, and pick-pocketed,” and that his wallet and cell phone were stolen. It continued: “His store was overrun by violent protestors who broke into his business, looted everything and eventually burned the store down. The store has since been boarded up by the Fire Department.  Everything is lost. Everything is ruined.”

The Wall Street Journal referred to my tennis partner’s tragedy in its April 28 story: “Several other fires burned around the city, including at Fireside North, a liquor store in West Baltimore, where a resident said the owner had given all his cash to looters before pleading unsuccessfully with them not to burn his shop. The shaken owner declined to comment.” Though the WSJ didn’t name the owner, a Korean online news organization did.

Overall, this is a tremendously complex situation that has played out in communities across the country that involves many factors including racism, police abuse of force, intergenerational poverty, lack of economic opportunity, failing educational systems, deplorable housing, lack of political will to address entrenched, systemic problems, hopelessness and isolation.

But what happened to my tennis partner is not complicated. It’s criminal, pure and simple. And those who perpetrated the violence and destruction should be apprehended and brought to justice – just like the Baltimore police officers who were responsible for the treatment and death of Freddie Gray, if they are found through the legal process to be culpable.

In my current graduate school class, Diversity Issues in Counseling, I read, “Black Like Me,” a book by a white author who took dermatological drugs that darkened his skin so he could experience life as a black man in the U.S. South and write about his daily life, observations and experiences. John Howard Griffin’s courageous experiment took place in 1959, a time of overt, oppressive and nearly intractable racism. But even 55 years later, one of his poignant observations still rings true, as demonstrated in Baltimore:

“I pray that the Negro will not miss his chance to rise to greatness, to build from the strength gained through his past suffering, and, above all, to rise beyond vengeance. If some spark does set the keg afire, it will be a senseless tragedy of ignorant against ignorant, injustice answering injustice – a holocaust that will drag down the innocent and right-thinking masses of human beings. Then we will all pay for not having cried for justice long ago.”

Griffin was right. Economic and social justice have been too long denied by a society too willing to look the other way while those unfortunate enough to be born into depraved and oppressive inner city blight conditions suffer through no fault of their own.

But he also was dead-on about the need to “rise beyond vengeance,” and about the “senseless tragedy” of “injustice answering injustice,” dragging down innocent and well-intentioned people through base behavior that harms the brave actions of those who dare to “rise to greatness” and address injustices through civil methods exemplified by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

My tennis partner was an innocent who was dragged down by vengeance. I am angry at the City of Baltimore for that. I have no doubt that more could have and should have been done to protect him, and others who suffered similar losses at the hands of criminals exploiting a volatile situation. I hope he is able to recover physically and economically. Whether he would ever be able to recover trust in a community he served, and that shattered it – both the city’s power structure and the criminals who attacked him and his livelihood – would seem less likely.

You can help my tennis partner recover through a Go Fund Me site: http://gofundme.com/BaltimoreRiot

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