Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Retirement? For Many Not Likely

Father’s Day is this Sunday and I was thinking of some advice my father gave me that, sadly, has come to pass.

When I was 23, my father and I had a deep, philosophical discussion about the rest of my life. While we raked leaves into piles in the backyard, I declared that I wanted a career in radio but was unsure of my decision because radio was this wild, untamed business that had huge pitfalls, no guarantee of success, and little job security.

My parents are from the generation that believed security trumped everything else. They raised two children based on the financial mantra of “slow and steady wins the financial race.”

So my declaration of wanting to go into the media circus sideshow that is radio was a major departure from what had been instilled in me.

But my father is an understanding man, so he gave me some prescient advice. He told me to do something that I was passionate about, making sure that I wasn’t being reckless in my choice of careers. “Find what you love,” he said, “and the money will follow.”

Then he said something that I dismissed, didn’t want to think about, but his prediction came true. Before we ended our discussion and went into the house for dinner, he made the comment that, “I think your generation will be the first to not retire.”

Ironically and sadly, it’s looking like that his casual, obtuse prediction will come to pass.

In the past couple of years, and especially in this economy and watching my IRA and 401K both nosedive, I have fully and quietly resigned myself to the fact that I will work for the rest of my life.

Now I am different than most people. I’ve never fully embraced the idea of not working. I don’t picture myself owning a golf cart, puttering around Sun City in a loud Hawaiian shirt, black socks and sandals. I don’t golf and have no plans on making it my hobby when I am older. I want to work – I like to work. I am lucky in that way; I haven’t shunned or dismissed my Puritanical upbringing.

But for many people, retirement was the finish line that you sprinted for, getting there early was the goal, living better than the rest of your peers was the prized gauntlet. That won’t be the case in the next couple of years for many.

For 77 million Boomers, it may be too late. More and more Baby Boomers are putting off retirement with the latest news from Wall Street. According to AARP stats, 24 percent of Boomers are putting off retirement indefinitely.

My father could have retired, but hasn’t. He still works; in fact he has the luxury of only taking jobs he wants and makes good money. You won’t find him on the golf course, or tying flies in the garage. Or fulfilling a life long dream of attending baseball games in every Major League ballpark in America.

I get my work ethic from him. But I am also a realist, fully recognizing that Gen X, as a group, may be the first generation since the Depression to not do as well as their parents. Also, I realized about 10 years ago that Social Security should be utterly bankrupt and completely drained by the time I am 65. Combine that with life expectancies getting longer, along with quality of life, and I’ve decided that there’s no reason to stop working. Period.

Do I want to point an accusatory finger at our elected political twits and say thanks for wasting my (our) money? Sure. But that isn’t in my plans. I am lucky. I have time to watch my nest egg rebuild itself, and I will add to it over the next 20 years.

As I am fortunate, so is my father. He will always be in demand. He has gone from the corporate world to home improvements and repair. As he says, “everyone needs a door hung or a light fixture installed.” So he will be fine.

But for many who find themselves in the eye of our current economic storm, they will have to find new jobs and new ways to earn money, not having the once-guaranteed dream of retirement.

I am lucky, I found something I love and that allows me to earn enough money to put away. But I hate the fact my dad was right about my (and other) generations.

I would’ve liked to visit every major ballpark in the United States. But I will be too busy working.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad; I always appreciate the advice, even when it comes true.

1 comment:

  1. We're in the same generation (I was born in 64 - don't count us early-mid 60s kids in with the Boomers - we have nothing in common with them despite what some government person decided when they set a cut off year). I was told back in college in the 80s that our generation would be working till at least 70-75. My financial planner who is in our age group also said that to me at our first meeting - we will be working till at least 70. She based all my planning on 70 being the EARLIEST age of retirement.

    Now there's something to be said for the fact that we will also live longer than our parents' generation. so in one way it's all relative. I for one don't want to retire at 65 if I'm living till 100. 75 sounds much better. But I also want the option of retiring earlier if I can swing it financially. But with all the past government mistakes and with the current govt trying to gain even more power over our finances, I don't think we will have the option of early retirement.