The Fading Dream of “Retirement”

The Lackawanna County Blakely Poor House for males

Once upon a time, like when I was born in the first year America entered WWII, most people didn’t expect to “retire”.

You know.  Retire.  Stop working.  After a lifetime of working.  Like I’ve done.

Retire.  Sit home on my ass blogging for you precious readers who waste your valuable time reading me.

I get up when I wake up.  Go to bed when I’m sleepy.  Eat when I’m hungry.  Keep doctor’s appointments.  Run errands.  Shop for groceries.  Do laundry.  Clean the house.  Cook for myself.  Read.  Write.

I can do this because I have an income.

I have social security.  I started collecting when I was 62, now more than ten years ago.   On the second Wednesday of each month there is a deposit to my account from the Feds.

It is not enough to live on.

In addition to my social security checks I receive pension checks.  Three of them.

I was lucky.

During my working life my employers provided excellent defined benefit pension plans, all the while still making substantial profits.  Eventually 401K were added to the mix. In return they got a loyal, hardworking staff.

Working for a corporate employer for 5 years meant locking in a pension when you retired.  The amount depended on how long you worked for the company and your average salary.  When I retired each of 3 firms offered me (a) a lump sum of cash or (b) a fixed monthly amount for as long as I lived.

My wife had already passed; had she been living I could have arranged for her to receive a monthly amount as well if I died first.

I took the monthly checks.

I was betting I would live long enough to cover the lump sum each company had offered.  They were hoping I would expire the next day at which point they would owe nothing and have made a tidy profit.  Had I taken the lump sum and expired quickly the funds would have gone to my daughters.  Taking the monthly checks however ensured an income for life, so that I would never be a financial burden to my children.  Additionally I would not have to worry about investing the funds or outliving the money.

I have that socialist Medicare and a private supplemental policy to take care of my health and prescription  needs so retirement is ok for an old widower who lives alone, pays his bills, visits the doctor and drives a Hyundai.

The future of those currently in the prime of life does not look as bright to me.

Today the nation’s largest and most profitable institutions no longer provide defined pension plans for their employees. If you don’t save it yourself and stash away that “matching contribution” in your 401K you ain’t gonna have anything. And even if you do you  may not have enough. Assuming of course you have a 401K. Or health insurance benefits. Hundreds of thousands in my own state earn ten bucks an hour with no benefits and no pensions.  The corporate barons looted the over funded pension plans years ago, pushing the entire responsibility of your retirement on you.  After all, the company owes you nothing but a pay check and corporate responsibility to the shareholders requires that the pay check be as little as possible.

When I was a kid grandparents lived with their children and their grandchildren. One of the kids took in their mom and pop while the rest of the kids were expected to kick into the pot to provide for their support.  Social security was inadequate; besides my grandparents were not citizens.

Folks were expected to work until they died which  usually wasn’t long. The average life expectancy for a male in the 1920s was 49 years. If you lived longer there was no expected retirement age. You worked until you could no longer work or until you could no longer find work.

Then you were expected to live on your savings. Home ownership at the time was below 20% in the lower working class and the average wage adjusted for inflation in today’s dollars was around $13,000.  Usually old folks didn’t have sufficient resources to live on.

So you went to your children if you had any. It was expected. Grandma usually got one of the children’s bedrooms.

Lacking family to fall back on old folks relied on charity, churches or became “wards” of the county poor house.

My grandmother was put up in a small apartment paid for by her children after grandpa died.  She had no income nor significant savings.  Later when she got too frail to live on her own she was taken in by her daughter and son-in-law.  My in-laws took paternal  grandparents into their own home after my wife’s grandfather lost his sight.

None of this was unusual. It was common among all ethnic groups.

I’ve already pointed out that social security benefits are inadequate to live on if you have no other source of income.  The lackeys of the corporate barons in Congress whine and wring their hands relentlessly over the “bankrupt” social security program.  You can be sure that in future years it will be starved of funds relentlessly.

Meanwhile tens of millions of old people count on social security for 90% plus of their monthly income.   Tens of millions of workers (usually both mom and dad) live paycheck to paycheck with perhaps a couple of weeks worth of savings..

Without pension plans how are these folks supposed to “save for retirement?”  How are they supposed to save perhaps a minimum of half a million dollars?

It is clear to me that unless one owns their home outright in a low property tax state it is almost impossible to make a go of retirement on social security alone – your mortgage or rent payment will eat up an unacceptable portion of your monthly income.

It doesn’t take an oracle to predict that millions will never “retire”.  Why do you think you see those old “greeters” in Walmart?  It’s not because they want to “keep busy” – it’s because they need the money stupid!

I have two married daughters – the four of them work.  Only one has a pension plan.

In the 1930 census over 50% of all people over 65 were still working.  Thirty years from now it will be that way again.

Our young begin their working lives saddled with school debt and spend their days as- what is the term? – “wage slaves” and when they are too old to work they will have nothing to show for it but the years.

We have turned our people into the human capital of capitalism.




About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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4 Responses to The Fading Dream of “Retirement”

  1. beetleypete says:

    You have summed up the situation in most western countries perfectly Frank. The top earners are so rich, from money made on the backs of cheap labour, they will never have to worry about retirement. On the surface, my situation is not unlike yours. Pensions from two former jobs, and state pension in two years time, mean that I should be able to live comfortably, as the house is paid for. But factor in food costs, running a car, (essential in this area) heating oil, electricity, property taxes, and other bills like insurances, and I break even on paper, with nothing left for clothes, holidays, or entertainment of any kind.

    The difference comes from my wife’s income. She has to work, as she is nine years younger. She can retire on her work pension at age 60, but will have to wait 8-10 years after that (they keep moving the boundaries), to get her state pension. Once we are both retired, our lives will change beyond recognition, and not for the better. And we have both always worked, always paid in to pensions, and never taken any benefits from the system.

    As for the children, in their 20s and 30s now; no future, except to work until they die.
    Back to the Victorian society so beloved of the capitalist class here.

    Best wishes, Pete.


  2. jfwknifton says:

    This is the price of living in a society run by the very few for the benefit of their own greed. Here in England, hardly anyone can afford to buy a house. Even renting may be beyond many families. Children emerge from university with astonishing debts. A young doctor might owe £90,000 or more. Huge numbers earn the minimum wage, often working on zero hours contracts. Still, at least the politicians can award themselves an 11% pay increase! They deserve it, they’re doing such a great job. Excellent post, again, by the way. Thank you.


  3. Exactly. Eventually, Capitalism will bring us back to the days of feudalism.


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