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The Second Half: Retirement revelations

August 5, 2009

My friend—call him “Stan”—entered his Second Half of life as a very successful, upper management kind of guy. He had a great job, lots of benefits, and probably an early and very comfortable retirement. He had been with his company for years, and even after the company was sold a decade or so back, he stayed with the new folks and made a name for himself.

That was his downfall. Do a great job, get a sterling reputation, move up the ladder, earn a wonderful salary—all mistakes. Because, when the company was again sold this year, Stan got the ax: “I was no longer an asset, being so closely associated with the former company. I was ‘their guy,’ and I earned too much to move back down into the trenches—they figured I’d be disgruntled or miserable or both. So, when the restructuring was complete, their own people were put in the management positions, and I was let go.”

Stan got the average dismissal package with job relocation assistance in the mix. That was months ago. Stan is applying for work every day, even had a few interviews, but his age—late 50s—and his salary range have put him out of the market for most companies.

Another friend—call him “Curt”—is an over-the-road trucker. After his time in the Air Force some years ago, Curt came home and was offered a job driving a rig for a reputable company. He has one of the better kinds of positions as a driver: clean loads, consistent runs, and reliability—he’s home every weekend. Curt loves driving and has made a good living at it for years, enough to support a wife, three kids and a beautiful house in the country with acreage.

Last month, Curt’s company laid off a substantial number of drivers because of the massive slowdown in the transportation industry. Curt is now “low man on the totem pole” in terms of seniority, and the security of his position is week-to-week. “I could be out of work any day now, and having a reputation as ‘loyal, hard-working, and reliable’ is less important than how much you can work, and how little will you take for it?”

Curt’s wife has a part-time job, no benefits: “My obvious choice is to look for a full-time job while Curt is still employed, but I have three kids still at home and a household to run all by myself during the week. In any case, the kind of work I do does not typically offer benefits, especially insurance.”

I looked on the Web for some statistics about unemployment or underemployment of folks in their Second Half and found this cool Web site: Laid Off & Left Out: America’s Workers Deserve Better (www.unemployedworkers.org). Here’s their introduction:

“The National Employment Law Project created this Web site to provide a timely resource to learn more about the key programs available to workers and communities hard hit by the economy, to share experiences and concerns, and to participate in the national debate to stimulate the economy and make sure families get the aid they need to find good-paying jobs.”

Pretty cool. I browsed around the site and found these statistics: While workers across the board have been affected by the economic downturn, there are notable trends that have emerged among the unemployed. For example, when compared to previous recessions, older workers (those 45 years and older) are now more likely to be among the unemployed. In fact, older workers are twice as likely to be unemployed today than they were at the same time during the 1980 recession, while their representation in the overall labor force today is only 1.4 times as high. (Bold type is my addition.)

Deep in thought, I wandered into my local credit union, grateful to be depositing my tiny check. A flier caught my eye: “THE BIG GIVE 2009—First American (Credit Union) is looking to give back BIG to you, our members!”

I asked the Rockton branch’s delightful teller, Beth: “What’s this all about?”

She looked me right in the eye: “So many of our members are facing hard times. This is our way of being a good neighbor and giving back to the community.” Beth handed me a folded paper, “If you don’t need this, share it with someone who does—there are a lot of folks out there who don’t know where to turn.”

OK, so I got choked up right then and there. All a First American “member in good standing” had to do was write 100 words or fewer explaining his or her need (deadline: Aug. 1). They did this last year, helping a variety of people, including a local flood victim. I must have been preoccupied because I never heard a word about it. Maybe my closeness to the problem—good friends who are in or near serious financial difficulty—has raised my awareness.

I recently overheard, “They should wait a year or two to pass any bills for health care; there’s no need to rush into this!”

“No rush,” I thought, “tell that to Stan and Curt!” How many people do you know without adequate insurance, especially in their Second Half? I know a bunch.

In my Second Half, I thought I would be comfortable, content. Who could imagine this loss of security, this FEAR? I’m just grateful for friends—like those at First American Credit Union—who want to help a little.

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at kdt-insights@hotmail.com.

from the August 5 – 11, 2009 issue

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