Retirement reality?

Retirement…

It’s almost a four-letter word among my peers I’ve noticed.  Hanging around all our conversations about work, family, the house and yard, like some unacknowledged ghost whose presence is felt but ignored.  I can’t say I blame them.  I don’t like thinking about it either, much less talking about it.  Of course, there are pieces of retirement I like to think about, where I might go, what I might do when I’m not working like mad hour after hour every week.  But honestly, is that all that realistic?

I read an interesting and somewhat depressing article the other day about Gen Xer’s (of which I am a part) and our financial outlook.  The article itself is here: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/gen-x-reality-really-does-090000804.html  The thing that struck me was how in sync the article was with my own anecdotal experience, both me and my friends find ourselves struggling financially (and working with homeless folks as part of a ministry I understand struggling is somewhat in the eye of the beholder).  There is a stress on my peers that I don’t necessarily see as profoundly impacting the people younger than me and the people older than me.

I don’t think I am living beyond my means particularly.  My wife drives a 2002 Chevy with 100K+ miles on it and enough rust on the bottom half of the body that when it dies it will have to go to the junkyard.  I drive a 1997(!) Pontiac that I hope continues to keep running for just a few years more, or at least until it becomes old enough to qualify as a historic/classic car.  We are currently renting my parents old house from them, we have a basic internet and basic cable bundle (if it got any less we couldn’t get online or get local channels).  We don’t pay for childcare as fortunately both of our parents are still living and able to assist with that piece of things.  We don’t buy high-end items very often, I think almost all of our furniture is hand-me downs.  We buy clothes at thrift stores and garage sales.  I Do have a Netflix account for which I pay $8 a month.  And three student loans…

We both work full-time, but for not-for-profits which is never going to be a high paying field.  Our degrees were in fields that neither one of us ended up in (Interior Design and Theatre) and we do have health insurance and a retirement plan (saving approximately 6% of my monthly pay in).  I don’t share all this to play poor pitiful me, but rather to illustrate that this is similar to many many stories around this country.  I worry about taking care of Boo and D, I worry about how N and I will do as we get older, how we will (or will not) be able to take care of our parents as they age.  Currently my college savings plan for my children is to work for a university so they get tuition benefit as a perk of my employment.  It’s not like I have any money saved for them.  But I have a roof over my head, food on our table, and a community of loved ones that help us when we need it.

I also do not make $15/hr.

When I hear people asking for a “living wage” I understand the resentment, the anger and the frustration that drives their protests.  I get that the idea of working hard to be able to take care of yourself and your family is a central part of the myth of who America is.  When CEO pay goes up there is no chatter among the talking heads or pundits about how their raise will impact the cost of goods and services and why is that?  I think the discussion that we are currently having about retirement, a living wage and the mythical $15/hr has been hijacked and taken on a joy ride rather than considering other important points.  To illustrate something consider this:

$15/hr x 40hrs/week = $600

$600/wk x 52 weeks = $31,200.00

For every $1,000,000 a CEO salary goes up, they could be paying between 32 and 64 employees $15/hr for full-time employment and still save around $2500….(since most of them would be earning the minimum wage to start with – currently $7.25/hr) and that’s assuming that these employees would be working 40 hours a week.

The CEO of Morgan Stanley, James Gorman, saw his pay go up by 5.6 million dollars in 2014.  That would equate to between 160 and 320 of their lowest paid employees going from the minimum wage to $15/hr and would still leave him making 18 million dollars a year.  Still think it’s too much of a stretch to raise the minimum wage?  Consider too that if people made more money, they will be taxed more, which in turn create more revenue for roads & highways, police, firemen, college tuition grants and more.  Maybe my pay wouldn’t go up much if this idea passed, but it might.  And if that’s the case, maybe retirement would stop being a four letter word…

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Daddy Manifesto #….? who cares it’s all about the medicine baby…

Whenever I hear someone talk about health benefits, Obamacare, Insurance, this is mostly how I feel:

Health 1

Making Social Security solvent – Personally I would like more information on this before I make a judgment on it.  I can say two things for sure however.  The first is, that I am okay with raising the minimum age for which people qualify for benefits.  We are living longer as a people than we did when this act was first passed.  Realizing that, and realizing that there will still need to be accommodations for specific circumstances, would help the program enjoy more longevity than it currently faces.  Second, I am also okay with reducing the amount of benefit that people who make hundreds of thousands of dollars or more get.  Social Security was a safety net for people who had no other access to savings and retirement, and that is also no longer the case.  If, as a people, we want to reduce the amount of money that those people pay into Social Security as well as reduce their payments from it, that could also be the start of a discussion to improving Social Security.  But I am NOT in favor of privatizing it.

Reducing health care costs – Here too, I am not sure why this is so hard to do.  Other countries that have single payer health systems manage to keep their costs down significantly more than we do.  While we hear all the scare tactics and propaganda from the medical industries, I am unsure of the truth of the matter on this issue, in part because I am not sure that anybody, on either side of this issue, is really telling the truth.  I believe this in part because I think the truth is more complicated and more confusing than people think and it’s easier to either say “socialized medicine is evil” or “look what the evil medical companies are doing again.”  This is an issue I would like somebody to take and talk about in a more serious tone than I have heard thus far.

Making Medicare solvent – This is another of those issues that it seems really difficult to find some sort of sane and non-partisan information on.  If Medicare is truly close to becoming insolvent, then yes, solutions need to be found to prevent that from happening.  I like some of the ideas that I have heard, at least in theory, about redoing how Medicare is paid out, tying payments to patient outcomes (we do this for education so why not medicine, which is MUCH more measurable – i.e. are you healthier than you were six months ago or not?) and the like.  This is another of the social safety nets that I believe we need to keep in place to help protect both ourselves and our fellow human beings.  As a Christian, I feel it is part of my duty to help the sick, feed the hungry, etc.  “Protecting” my money was never a part of that list.

Daddy Manifesto #2 – Money, money, money…

Lobbying influence – Like almost everyone I know I hate lobbyists.  Oh, maybe not in quite the same way and maybe hate is too strong a word, but I certainly dislike how things are currently set up.  Lobbyists are useful.  They are a way for people who have common cause to come together and raise a single united voice to those in power.  In and of itself this is not a bad thing.  The problems come when the lobbyists become tools for the rich and powerful on both sides, and no longer serve the will of the people of this nation.  There are several things I think that need to happen in regard to reducing the unhealthy relationship Lobbies have with politicians.  First, we need to stop allowing former politicians to retire and become lobbyists, for more than the year or two it is now.  Personally I think politicians should not be able to become lobbyists or work for lobbying firms for at least 5 years (maybe 6 so it matches a Senate term) after they leave office.  They need to go back to the people before turning around to go back to Washington.  Second, we need to severely limit the kinds and amounts of gifts and perks that lobbyists can provide to our politicians.  Gifts lead to graft, to corruption and to a self-sustaining political culture that shuts out the ordinary citizen and ensures that the golden rule is paramount – “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”  Third, disclosure disclosure disclosure.  I know I have said it before and will likely say it again.  The surest way to keep democracy free is to keep it transparent.  While policy discussions and top secret items need to stay that way, the flow of money into our government and it’s officials needs to be kept watch upon in order to keep the process free and fair.

Money in politics – I believe that every candidate who wants to run for national offices should be required to take public funding, zero donor funds (for Presidential tickets as well as Federal Congressional races).  I believe there should be stricter controls on Super-PACS on both sides of the aisle and want to remove the shielding laws in place that allow people to donate anonymously in any amount to these groups.  If you are giving more than $10-25,000 to an organization like a PAC, you should have to announce that.

To change or…what’s the alternative?

Change.

It is a hard thing to contemplate sometimes.  All too often it is associated with the loss of something or the lessoning of, rather than as an opportunity for.  Some change is beneficial, some is necessary, but then there is some change that just plain out sucks.  Currently my wife’s work is going through one of those periods of change that just plain suck.  One of the challenges of working for non-profits is that employment at them can, even during the best of times, be somewhat tenuous.  They are getting ready to announce a large number of layoffs, but only in terms of the number of people let go.  They are not announcing who is safe and who has to leave until August, which, as much as I don’t like, I understand why.  They are going through an entire reorganization for an international non-profit.  They have to work with other countries employment law as well as figure out what the remaining institution will look like once this happens.  These things do not happen overnight.  And this particular change was put off until everything else had been considered.  Position cuts, budget juggling, leaving positions unfilled… eventually though, there comes a time where there is nothing else to do but let people go.

I can only imagine the pain of those who have served and given of their passion and time and energy who are now facing the prospect of their position being eliminated.

Nobody gets into the non-profit world to make it big.  You do it because something about the mission of the place you work calls to something in you… at least that’s been the majority of my experience.  I too have worked in non-profits almost all my adult life and wouldn’t change it for the world.  I realized a long time ago I was going to be a part of what is sometimes referred to as “the working poor.”  I think I managed to scrape, claw and cling to the bottom rung of middle-class, but like many people I know, we are only a paycheck or two away from disaster.

I don’t envy any of us the upcoming months.  I know many people at my wife’s work, many of them life-long friends.  I am not looking forward to seeing the pain in their eyes when they have to start looking for new positions.  Nor the emotions that may come between those who get to stay and those who leave.  We’re only human, it will happen.  And that’s the part I think that we don’t talk about so much…  Change is either something bad to be avoided or change is something good that we must all do.  Personally I feel like it’s somewhere in-between.  Change may be necessary, but there needs to be acknowledgment of the pain that transformation entails.  Change can be fast or slow, big or small, but every change hurts… at least a little… even if it’s for the best, especially if it takes awhile…