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The Harsh Reality of the Retirement Crisis – Jo Ann Harris – Medium

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It is not easy being of retirement age. It’s pretty tough. Too much expense and too little money. What do you do? Used to be there was a three-legged stool that had the formula: savings, 401K, and Social Security. Did you know that over 50% of retirees have nothing but Social Security? They never had any savings because of the cost of living was more than income, and they did without, and a 401K was used for an emergency or a move or something. Social Security was never meant to be used for the only source of income in retirement. That means that the “Oldens” end up with a lot of nothing. Some was because of poor planning on their part and some was not. If you had kids in later life, like I did, a lot of money was spent on them, for school supplies, clothes, and other needs; there was no savings. Sometimes no husband, no insurance, no benefits to fall back on, nor a home with equity materalized. If they ever had it was lost when the housing bubble burst in 2008. Not everyone has all those things, some do and great for them, but most don’t as you can see by the statistic I just mentioned.

Finding a job after retirement is a joke as well. Any on-line applications go with the wind. Or if you are lucky enough to find something the work or physical labor is too hard or the circumstances/employer are too harsh. WE have our dignity you know. We don’t need to dig ditches at our age or stock liquor bottles day in and day out from pal lattes that never end. Or answer to a demanding boss less than 1/2 our age calling us and treating us like children. You either have to put up or shut up to keep it.


“In the meantime — and there is an “in the meantime” — we’re going to have to adopt a live-low-to-the-ground mindset, drastically cutting back on our expenses. And I don’t mean just living within our means. A lot of people are already doing that. What is called for now is to, in a much deeper way, ask ourselves what it really means to live a life that is not defined by things. I call it “smalling up.” Smalling up is figuring out what you really need to feel contented and grounded. I have a friend who drives really beat-up, raggedy cars, but he scrimped and saves $15,000 at one point to buy a flute because music is what really matters to him. He smalled up.” (Elizabeth White-Ted Talk — An honest look at the personal finance crisis)

The normal that we knew is over. In this new place that we are, we’re going to be asked to do things that we don’t want to do. We’re going to be asked to take assignments that we think are beneath our station and our talent and our skill. This is a crisis of our generation that needs to be addressed. I have to have roommates so that I can survive because where I live is not affordable for me alone. You say well find something cheaper. In Florida, “something cheaper” is to live in a high crime area within a bad neighborhood. Also, people don’t rent until you can afford to pay them about $5,000 or so for first and last month’s rent and security deposit. Who has money like that? Even the 55+ community want proven income of at least $2,500 a month and credit rating of 650. To some that may not be any big deal, but on a limited income it is.

I have a friend that works himself to death just to make his rent and utilities payments. He is not on social security yet nor does he receive food stamps, so he is surviving by sweat of his brow, his faith that all will be well, and that all will be enough this month. He lost everything in 2008 and has not been able to bounce back from it. Loss is loss and it ruins your life.

When I came to Florida I was shocked at all the elderly people begging at the stop lights collecting their pennies for the day. We had a speaking friendship with one lady. She used to be a chef, but no more. She told us a little about her daily life. She said there was so much rain one night that her tent flooded and when she came home later in the day after begging in the middle of the street it was gone and someone destroyed her campsite. I realized that I had a brand-new tent that the boys used one time, we gave it to her. She felt grateful and blessed and said so. I hoped her well. Can you comprehend the danger that poor lady was in?


“It’s not easy being part of the advance team that is ushering in this new era of work and living. First is always hardest. First is before there are networks and pathways and role models … before there are policies and ways to show us how to go forward. We’re in the middle of a seismic shift, and we’re going to have to find bridgework to get us through. Bridgework is what we do in the meantime; bridgework is what we do while we’re trying to figure out what is next. Bridgework is also letting go of this notion that our worth and our value depend on our income and our titles and our jobs. Bridgework can look crazy or cool depending on how you were rolling when your personal financial crisis hit. I have friends with PhDs who are working at the Container Store or driving Uber or Lyft, and then I have other friends who are partnering with other boomers and doing really cool entrepreneurial ventures. Bridgework doesn’t mean that we don’t want to build on our past careers, that we don’t want meaningful work. We do. Bridgework is what we do in the meantime while we’re figuring out what is next”.

“As a country, we have achieved longevity, investing billions of dollars in the diagnosis, treatment and management of disease. It’s not enough to just live a long time. We want to live well. We haven’t invested nearly as much in the physical infrastructure to ensure that that happens. We need now a new way of thinking about what it means to be old in America. And we need guidance and ideas about how to live a richly textured life on a much more modest income.

So I am calling on change agents and social entrepreneurs, artists and elders and impact investors. I’m calling on developers and disrupters of the status quo. We need you to help us imagine how to invest in the services and products and infrastructure that will support our dignity, our independence and our well-being in the many, many decades that we’re going to live.

My journey has taken me from a place of fear and shame to one of humility and understanding. I’m ready now to link shields with others, to fight this fight, and I’m inviting you to join me”. (Elizabeth White-Ted Talk — An honest look at the personal finance crisis)

This lady had a lot of intestinal fortitude to have this talk. To get up in front a room full of people and open herself up and humble herself to the outcome. I could see the sadness and pain she had endured over some years and how she had the bravery to come up with a plan.

We need this.

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