Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The senior citizen un-retired - are we all destined to become Wal-Mart greeters?

This past weekend I played catch-up with my back-log of magazines. In the middle of gloomy and even gloomier economic news and forecasts was a story about the growing population of seniors who have had to un-retire – come out of their retirement to go back to work, simply to pay their daily bills.

My first reaction was, “Well, if they had planned better they’d be fine.”

But I kept reading.

There were stories about retired engineers and accountants who had planned carefully, putting away significant savings and paying off homes.

In every case, something unforeseen occurred, leaving the individual (or couple) scrambling to pay their bills.

In one story, cancer not only took the life of the woman involved just following her husband’s retirement, but it also wiped out their nest egg and put their financial stability in serious jeopardy.

In other stories the combined one-two punch of falling home values and the plummeting stock market left people who retired at the top of their profession looking for jobs at Wal-Mart and Home Depot. And of course, with retail sales being off, even those jobs are tough to get.

For seniors the main issues go deeper than simply not being able to pay the house payments and insurance. Health care and long-term care costs can begin to eat into savings quickly.

The ripple effect hits all generations. A recent NPR interview of college students discussing how to pay their school bills included a brief clip from a young person saying, “My parents are having to help my grandparents pay their bills now too, so I don’t know how long I’ll be able to afford to go to school here.”

The American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA) has a website called The Long Term Care Solution that has as the tag line this sentence: “Left unchecked, America’s long term care financing crisis will devastate millions of American families.” Here’s the lead story:

Walt is 82 years old. He's your father, brother, uncle. Someday, he might be you. Like so many others, he's experienced a physical setback - car wreck, stroke, diabetes, heart disease - and now he needs help. Perhaps bathing, or dressing, or going to the bathroom - just doing some of the things we all take for granted. He needs this help every day, for the rest of his life, and the cost for his long-term care will become overwhelming to him and his family. This financial crisis should never happen to anyone. But it does . . . every day.

This is real life for many seniors and their families today. Most of these individuals do not have the option to un-retire.

Like so much that affects one segment of our population, it doesn’t just stop there. Yes, it’s a societal problem.

But for millions of Americans today, it’s also personal. It’s time for action – and action always starts with the individual.

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