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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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But by the time Jesse was in his mid-50s, it finally sunk in that there might come a day when he couldn’t keep up his physically punishing pace. So in 1999, he jumped at the chance to apply for a position with the state of California. After  camping out overnight at a CalWORKS skills center, he got a job as a field maintenance worker for the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA), which administers the local Head Start program.

And for the next decade, he did his part to keep SETA’s 43 school buildings in good working order. But by 2009 the years and an accident had taken their toll on his legs, so he opted for retirement at 64. “[Working became] kind of hard,” he recalls, “because I had to carry backpacks, and I did a lot of walking and stuff. And [my legs] kind of started to bother me, you know?”

The other reason he took retirement, Espinoza admits, was to spend quality time with his grandkids, get in a little fishing on the Sacramento River and pursue his dream of designing and building fine furniture. In fact, his idea of rest and relaxation continues to be slipping out to his garage workshop and building whatever his current backyard construction project happens to be.

“I’ve always been a designer since I was a little kid,” he says. “I have my own style. That’s what people are looking for.”

But four years after leaving SETA, retirement hasn’t turned out quite as he expected. Despite a monthly pension check of $850 and an additional $1,100 from Social Security, Espinoza says that it’s a struggle just to make certain his health insurance premium gets paid.

“What’s so strange is that I retired and I had these goals and it didn’t happen,” he says. “And when you have all these bills and stuff coming at you, it just kinda takes all that away from you. So basically what I’m doing is working and trying to catch up with those bills.”

Which is why Espinoza recently returned to SETA as an independent contractor, filling in for vacationing or sick workers. That’s when he isn’t taking on some remodeling work to make ends meet.

And that quality time he imagined spending with his grandkids as a retiree? It turns out to be taking them along on a job.

“I had my grandson with me last Saturday,” Espinoza recalls. “Because I used to like to take him fishing or something. And I had him work with me for the whole day. I showed him how to rip out a whole floor, how to replace all the bad wood, and how to put tile on there. And he really enjoyed it. And I told him, I said, ‘You’re going to learn something big that you’re never going to forget.’”

Patricia Everetts, Concord

When Patricia Everetts moved to the Bay Area in 1985 and landed a job with the Contra Costa County Superior Court as an account clerk, she thought she had hit the jackpot as far as providing for her family and her retirement security went. Her husband had recently died, and at age 47 she found herself supporting a disabled son and a grandson.

“I felt that by going into government I would have more of an opportunity to have a better retirement,” she says. “Because I did have some medical problems. And so I thought that it was secure and that I could retire from the courts and make a decent retirement.”

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