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"I Never Thought I'd Be Working In My 70s": Three Distressing Retirement Stories

It’s official: America has entered a retirement crisis—according to Forbes, “the greatest retirement crisis in the history of the world.”

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Anders is having her morning tea in the well-manicured front yard of the modest clapboard house she shares with her retired husband, David, and her son Lee, who has moved back home while he finishes an accounting degree at Long Beach State. A small, exuberant and cherubic woman of 72, Anders, but for her still-strawberry-blonde hair, is almost the storybook picture of the kindly old grandmother from “Little Red Riding Hood.”

But the wolves that have been showing up at her door are of a breed never dreamed of by the Brothers Grimm.

“Ends don’t meet,” she says flatly. “Our pensions are not keeping up with the cost of living . . . We’re always struggling to keep up with inflation.”

So nearly a decade after retiring, Anders found herself returning to work as a substitute librarian. She isn’t alone. “Every retired librarian I know has returned to substitute work, because the pension we thought would be adequate is not,” she says. “So we go back because it’s not stretching. We go back to help our families. Single moms have never quit. They’ve retired and then went to work as a sub and are still doing so, even though they retired in 2003 or 2004.”

Anders is more fortunate than many. Her gross annual pension is a tidy $49,000, and her husband Dave, who worked for L.A.’s Department of Water and Power, also draws a retirement income.

“At least we have a pension,” she says. “[But] Instead of helping us stay even kind of stable, it is inadequate to maintain where we were before we retired.”

Working in her 70s is a far cry from how Anders pictured the retired life.

“I imagined I’d be doing all these wonderful things,” she says, “including some travelling. I imagined we’d have a motorhome, so we could see the United States together . . . We didn’t travel much during our working years. But I always imagined I would be doing that, and I imagined that we would be able to afford to do that. And that wasn’t true. That did not come true at all.”

The shock of retirement came from routine expenses that she had taken for granted when she and her husband were both working.

“One of the things with retirement,” Anders says, “is you don’t set aside enough to be able to replace your vehicles. So my van is a 2003. David’s is 1999, I think. A little Ford Focus. Lee has a small Ford Ranger, and he just had to have $2,000 of work. I just had to have $700 done. So those are really serious bills, those repair bills that come around.”

Her biggest fear, however, remains her health and stamina.

“How long can I keep doing this before my body gives out?” she wonders. Her goal is to rack up the 40 calendar quarters of employment she needs to qualify for free Medicare. (As city workers, neither she nor her husband paid into Medicare or Social Security.) “Despite rumors to the contrary,” she says, “librarians are on their feet all the time they’re working. I’m 72 — my little body isn’t 40 anymore.”

Jesse Espinoza, Sacramento

Like his father before him, 68-year-old Jesse Espinoza has worked hard all his life. Partly, that’s because he’s had to. Married three times and divorced twice, Espinoza had six kids and three wives to support.

And over that lifetime, he’s mastered a dazzling variety of skills. Need a concrete driveway poured? You called Jesse. Need your house rewired or your kitchen remodeled or your bathroom re-plumbed? Jesse was your man. The same went for upholstery (cars or couches), custom-designed furniture or even welding.

 
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