Retiring boomers face crucial financial decisions
We have met the enemy and he is us.
Walt Kelly – he drew the comic strip Pogo – first used that phrase on a 1970 Earth Day poster.
This may be the year to resurrect that illustration.
This, in fact, may be the year millions of Americans – particularly women – hobble or toss away millions in retirement benefits.
In 2008, some 9 million boomers – born from 1946 to 1964 – turn 62. That makes them eligible for early Social Security.
And about half are expected to do just what their parents generally did – file for benefits at the youngest possible age.
This despite the fact they are projected to be the longest lived generation to date. About 86 years for women and 83 years for men.
Financial experts say taking early benefits – retiring early – is a mistake. Boomers, particularly women, can outlive their money.
Only about 5 percent of retirees wait until their full retirement age to claim benefits, says Stephen Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration.
Social Security says if you live to be 77, you “break even” if you take early benefits. That is, a retiree who dies before that age would do better taking benefits early. But those who live beyond 77 would earn more by delaying benefits.
Then there are taxes.
Retirees with other income, says USA Today, could owe taxes on a huge chunk of benefits.
But taking benefits early is only a portion of the retirement time-bomb boomers face.
Thousands of women are forced into early retirement – even in their 50s – to become caregivers to aging parents.
Thousands are losing their jobs to downsizing and most – particularly women – have trouble finding comparable jobs after age 50. So they make less money and end up with less money on which to retire.
Some employers won’t let older workers stay on the job beyond retirement years despite studies showing the benefits of hiring and retaining older workers.
“Phased retirement,” the concept endorsed by most counselors, is a work plan most boomers should embrace, says Andrew Rettenmaier, author of a report for the National Center For Policy Analysis. The government “should encourage boomers to stay in the workforce longer, or at least not encourage them to leave.”
People who keep on working instead of just retiring are healthier and happier, says Sara Rix of AARP’s national policy center in Washington, D.C. Since women live longer, they will be happier if they work longer, Rix says, but she acknowledges they usually don’t make as much money.
What’s a 50-plus gal to do?
“Facing the gender and age challenge in late life is getting especially difficult,” agrees Helen Dennis, a nationally recognized spokeswoman on issues of aging, working and retirement.
Dennis will guide a panel of women – caregivers, early retirees, happy and unhappy retirees – through a discussion of women’s retirement issues at the Feb. 12 WomanSage meeting. The group meets at First American Corp. in Santa Ana, Calif. Go to www.womansage.org for information.
The truth is there is no one answer for everyone.
The facts are of the 145 women responding to the WomanSage survey “Is Your Work Your Identity?” (see www.womansage.org) more than half in the “retirement” bracket are still working: 31 percent identify themselves as working part time; 26.2 percent say they are not retired; 9 percent are semi-retired.
Expect to hear presidential candidates debate whether or not Social Security and Medicare will remain solvent as the 77 million in the boomer generation retire.
We’ll join them in this debate, looking at after-50 issues like starting your own business, considering career change, marshaling retirement data.
To expand on a phrase, what’s going to be in your wallet when you’re 84?
Jane Glenn Haas writes for The Orange County (Calif.) Register. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org