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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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So for 18 years Everetts went to work auditing the administration and bookkeeping departments of Contra Costa’s courthouses, eventually working her way up to the position of grant accountant. She bought a house in Concord and life was good.

But a heart condition eventually caught up with Everetts (she’s had four stents and is about to get her third pacemaker), so in 2003 she was forced to take retirement at age 62.

Everetts quickly discovered, however, that even with the $1,400 a month she gets from Social Security, her $1,680 monthly state pension check meant that she and her family were going to have to do without. Beginning with her house, which she was forced to let go. And paying bills on time. And eating out. Or sometimes even eating at all.

“I never thought, when I was working, that I’d see the day that I couldn’t afford to pay the basics,” she says with frustration. “I have friends who go to the food bank sometimes and get us food. Just the basic necessities. Sometimes I’ve had to ask for assistance in paying my utilities. And that’s the hardest part — having to go to somebody and say, ‘I really can’t pay this. Can I apply and get a lower rate for my utilities?’ Sometimes they do that, sometimes they don’t.”

Not that Everetts ever imagined retirement was going to allow her to live as large as when she was working. But she did think she’d be able to afford her retirement dream of taking trips back to the Midwest to visit family or to splurge on an occasional evening of theater or a movie and a dinner in San Francisco.

Instead, her retirement travels have been more local. “Once in a while,” she admits, “I’ll take a day trip some place on the bus through the senior center — that’s like $36. I don’t go to movies. We very seldom ever go out to eat. I do play canasta, because it only costs me a dollar-and-a-half . . . You know, I don’t do a lot.”

She worries that California’s retired public workers are seen as having life too easy.

“The most anxiety is that they might cut Social Security,” Everetts says. “I know some of the stuff that they say is for the new people coming up, but there’s so much propaganda about it that you’re not sure.”

Bill Raden is a freelance Los Angeles writer.

An investigative reporter for more than three decades, Gary Cohn won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting in 1998 for his series The Shipbreakers, detailing the dangers to workers and the environment when old ships are dismantled. Reach him with comments or story ideas at gcohn@fryingpannews.org.

 
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