Streams

The Social History of Retirement

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Retirement hasn't always meant to the same thing to all people. Tom Jankowski, associate director for research at Wayne State's Institute of Gerontology, discusses how the concept of "retirement" is really a product of the industrialization, and how the Baby Boomers are changing the economics -- and idea -- of taking it easy in old age. Plus: The story of retirement as told through your family history. Who's been your model for retirement? How did you parents, grandparents and other family members retire, and what lessons has that taught you?

Guests:

Tom Jankowski

The Morning Brief

Enter your email address and we’ll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.

Comments [25]

none from Brookyln

Please speak to freelance workers (1099) with Student Loans. Thank you.

Jun. 18 2014 11:55 AM
RM from Riverdale, Bronx from Riverdale, Bronx

My parents worked very hard but had no pensions. They had no savings and raised the three of us and we we all attended CCNY. After illness my father ws forced to retire and they lived ok on veterans pensions and social security. When their veterans pensions were rescinded they lived on SS but after my fathers death my mother had to live on one SS check and she lived just above the poverty line. Thank goodness she was eligible for section 8 and medicaid to provide her with home health aides.
My husband and I began our marriage in 1971 with $37 in savings and law school loans. We both worked in public service and we now are retired with city pensions ( which we both paid into and spent large part of our careers underpaid and certainly under appreciated)and we have recently begun social security using spousal benefits. My husband will wait until 70 to collect max benefits.
We always saved money. We saved for a down payment and prepaid our mortgage when we could and now own for several years. We hired a financial planner and advisor and we have a great life now. We travel a lot, help out our kids,(left them college loan free) hang out with 2 young grandsons and feel very financially secure. Very different from our parents. Never underestimate the value of education. I have never been sorry I retired. I love my life. My husband works part-time which is good for his head and a great addiional paycheck.
We are 64 and 66.

Jun. 18 2014 11:15 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Yes, Ellen from New York city, great point. Note that, these were "categories of black workers", because race terror confined blacks to these back-breaking, under-compensated trades.
Here's the other important point: When blacks finally won SS 'qualification', after vigorous lobbying, they still didn't get it at equal rates. Why? After paying into it for years, many blacks died before they could cash in on this meager benefit, due to the health effects of the stresses of black life! In this way, blacks, once again, subsidized the benefit for others.
Here's an article touching on the phenomenon: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/11/07/how-social-security-redistributes-from-minorities-to-whites/

Jun. 18 2014 11:14 AM
APRIL from YUPPER WEST SIDE

MY FATHER'S PEOPLE CAME OVER ON THE MAYFLOWER, MAH MUTHUHS OWNED SLAVES IN CHARLESTON. BUT ON NEITHER SIDE WERE WE REALLY RICH AS THE CLICHE'D VIEW OF WASPS ASSUMES. MEN: PROFESSORS, WOMEN: TEACHERS OR PRINCIPALS. LATER, WOMEN PROFS AS WELL. MY MOTHER WROTE FOR THE FEDERAL WRITER'S PROJECT, ACTED WITH THE CAROLINA PLAYMAKERS WHEN THEY TOURED THE COUNTRY. MANY OF MY FAMILY'S FRIENDS WERE COMMUNISTS. MY MOTHER TRIED TO JOIN THE PARTY BUT WAS TOLD SHE WAS "SOCIALLY FRIVOLOUS AND POLITICALLY IMMATURE. MY FATHER WORKED FOR OIL COMPANIES IN THE PHILIPPINES, AND VENEZUELA. THE OIL CO IN VENEZUELA WAS RACIST: "NO DOGS OR VENEZUELANS ALLOWED" ON A SIGN AT ENTRANCE TO OIL CO GROUNDS. HE HUNG WITH LOCALS, ELEGANT IN A WHITE SUIT, LEARNING FLUID SPANISH. AT 67, HE DID NOT WANT TO RETIRE FROM TEACHING SO TAUGHT A COURSE ON GEOMORPHOLOGY FREE. KEPT WRITING GEOLOGY AND POETRY UNTIL A FEW DAYS BEFORE HE DIED. MY MOTHER DIED EARLY. TOO HARD ON A CREATIVE "GENIUS" AS MY FATHER CALLED HER, TO TAKE CARE OF TWO KIDS WITH LITTLE HELP, WHILE HE WAS "IN THE FIELD". HE HAD THE DISTINCTION OF PUBLISHING A PAPER BY THE OLDEST PROFESSOR IN A EARTH SCIENCES JOURNAL. HE STUDIED THE FORMATION OF BARRIER ISLANDS. FELT NO ONE SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO GET INSURANCE TO BUILD ON THEM. THEY'RE ALWAYS MOVING, EVEN BEFORE CLIMATE CHANGE. WHICH HE PREDICTED. AS HE DID KATRINA. HE BLAMED AND THE ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS, WHO TURNED UP IN THE YEAR BEFORE HE DIED TO ASK IF WAS STILL POSSIBLE TO SAVE THE EVERGLADES. HE MARRIED A RICH WONDERFUL WOMAN CELLIST FROM NEW YORK. SHE'S IN A NURSING HOME IN DURHAM, NC. BRO ROGER AND I JUST RETURNED FROM VISITING HER. MY BROTHER LIVES IN CANADA. WHERE HE TAUGHT IN A UNIVERSITY. SO HE GETS NOT ONLY ALL HEALTH CARE BUT DENTISTRY AND MEDS, THOUGH HE RARELY TAKES THEM. HE LOVES BEING RETIRED FROM TEACHING, BUT NEVER STOPS DEALING WITH GRAD STUDENTS. MANY OF THEM IN EUROPE. WHERE HE ALSO DOES RESEARCH, FIRST AT RIKS IN THE NETHERLANDS. RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR KNOWLEDGE SYSTEMS. NOW AT A SIMILAR PLACE IN MOLL, BELGIUM. GOES TO MEETINGS IN FRANCE AT LEAST ONCE A YEAR AND BIKES THOUSANDS OF MILES. WALKS, WHEN HE CAN'T SKI. I'M A PSYCHOTHERAPIST. I'D LIKE TO BE RETIRED, BUT ONE PT KEEPS CALLING. IT'S MUCH EASIER TO TALK TO HIM ON THE PHONE. THAT WAY HE ACTUALLY LISTENS TO WHAT I SAY ONCE IN A WHILE. I HAVE AN IRA, WORTH NOT MUCH MORE THAN WHEN IT STARTED. AND AN APT ON CPW WITH GREAT VIEWS OF MIDTOWN AND THE PARK. HAVING VISION PROBLEMS IS A DRAG; I LOVE TO READ. MY STEPMOTHER HAS DEMENTIA AND IS IN N.C. BROTHER IN CANADA. READY TO DIE BEFORE TOO LONG. AS WOODY ALLEN SAID, I JUST DON'T WANT TO BE THERE WHEN IT HAPPENS. SO ARE MANY OF MY FRIENDS. I DISAGREE WITH FREUDIANS WHO DON'T BUY FREUD'S "DEATH INSTINCT". MONEY IS ESSENTIAL THE OLDER YOU GET. BUT A BALANCED PSYCHE IS IMPORTANT.

Jun. 18 2014 10:58 AM
mejimenez from manhattan

The partial mea culpa from the Boomer left out a couple of key points. First, the 1982 Greenspan Commission instituted an increase in Social Security contributions to deal with the Boomer Bulge. Thus, the $2.5 trillion currently in the Social Security Trust Fund is largely due to money paid in by working age Boomers, who are only now beginning to retire.

Also, that Boomers tended to borrow instead of save is directly due to the fact that wages have remained stagnant since the mid 1970's. As Dean Baker and many others often point out, this was not an accident but the result of a set of coordinated policy choices.

Jun. 18 2014 10:56 AM
Cynthia Herzegovitch from East Harlem

Having parents moving in is all well and good except that apartments and homes do not allow for the space - and I don't mean anything extravegant. The costs for those that can accommodate especially in this area of the country are out of reach of the average person. This also assumes that their are family memeber close by. Also sometimes moving elders out of their known area is not a good thing - familiarity of their surrondings is a good thing.

Also - how can one save enough even if one wants to when current costs especially housing keep raising but not wages. And to that end when companies moved to 401(k)s they did raise wages (which was the reason they claimed they couldn't raise them) to compensate for the additional "bill" we were now responsible for - and I don't mean a dollar for dollar replacement.

Jun. 18 2014 10:54 AM
J M

The 77-million strong baby boom generation is once again on the cusp of a tide that is transforming the world. Every 8 seconds someone turns 50, and it is estimated that by the middle of this century one-third of the world’s population will be over 60. When you couple that with the fact that the current global life expectancy has increased to over 80 years and a “millennial” can expect to live to 100 – it’s clear that a seismic demographic shift is underway. With the prospect of 20+ years of healthy, productive life past outmoded “retirement” ages, maybe it’s time to revise our antiquated take on life after 60.

Retirement, or the lack thereof, is a real dilemma millions of Americans are currently facing. Among the middle-aged, middle-class, middling-incomed the prospects have never been more elusive. After putting the kids through school, owing more on their mortgages than their homes/nest eggs are worth, (assuming they were able to afford homes), watching real wages stagnate, pensions go the way of the dinosaur, (replaced by stock market roulette), the average boomer is left with less than $50,000 in retirement savings. Doing the actuarial math, even with Social Security benefits they’ll hardly be able keep the wolf from the door … assuming they can afford doors. So, retirement is not an option. But what kind of work will they find in the face of ageism and aging out of their professions?

Jun. 18 2014 10:52 AM

No mention on how wage stagnation is going to affect Social Security payouts in the future????

Low wages = low contributions = low benefits.

Jun. 18 2014 10:51 AM
Bob from Huntington

Brian and Guest:

Please don't generalize about the values of the Baby Boom generation. Those born in the early boom (the late 1940s and early 50s) share values closer to those of their Depression-era parents than the later Boomers (early 1960s), the SUV drivers of the world.

Jun. 18 2014 10:45 AM
MSmith

Isn't it strange that a simultaneous anger exists at the low wage of teachers and first responders as compared to that of the high wages of workers in the financial industry AND at the fact that teachers, and first responders get generous pensions (or pensions at all these days). Arguments tend to imply that this system is broken but it is in fact working well. A financial worker can save from high salaries for retirement while teachers, civil servants and first responders get a lower wage but are insured that pension. Never mind the fact that teachers and first responders are charged with the care and guidance of next generation and saving our lives.

Jun. 18 2014 10:44 AM
Tina from Queens

Emmigrated 25 years ago fm communist Eastern Europe, at age 26. Worked, worked, worked. Went to school in the mean time; got married, had kids; worked, worked, worked in the same time. In 1996 bought my first 2 fam. house (to help pay my mortgage). Paid it off in 9 years. Bought a 4 fam house in 2009. Finally, last year, bought my 1 fam house - which I call MY house, where I can live like a normal person. Have a huge mortgage, that my kids will finish pay. However, I do not intend to retire completely until age 70, because I love my profession and my job. My hope is that I will be able to afford to work part time after age 60. My husband says he will NEVER retire. He just LOVES to work. We are both the hyper type - we can't sit still. And our boys seem to be the same.
I think achievement in life depends on personality more so than on brains.
I see it every where around me: There are people that are driven and there are people that just like to sit around.
And, by the way, I do not watch TV at all. There is a whole world out there to be lived when TV is eliminated from ones life.
Radio, on the contrary, is a blessing. I put it on, and go around my business. And NPR is the best thing ever happened to radio. I am a contributor and an avid listener.
Congratulation to you guys for the programs you put out there.
Keep up the good work. We need NPR!

Jun. 18 2014 10:40 AM
Karen from NYC

I don't think about retirement as a form of denial!

It is amazing to hear that NYC teachers and other employees can retire at 55 and have an "amazing" pension. You're welcome. Taxpayers pay for your pension when we cannot pay for our own. As an architect with 30 years of work life (and no union!) I have no pension and the 401 was depleted during the "crash". Whereas my father, who worked in corporate America in the 50's to 70's when he died, had a very nice pension that my mother (home-maker) is still living on very nicely 27 years later.

Our favorite expression is "I'll die at my desk".

Jun. 18 2014 10:36 AM
john from office

Mr. Bad, that is a good point.

Jun. 18 2014 10:35 AM
Brenda

The problem people are beginning to have with respect to some civil servants pension is that the deal used to be job and retirement security at a slightly lower wage. Now in many places the wages are higher than the equivalent private salary and the pension promises were based on ultra rosy projections and given by politicians who wouldn't have to worry about them down the line. So, what is the problem, well now the new generation of highly paid employees (many over 6 figures) are beginning to retire and money for their pension is coming out of the yearly budgets and are in competition with current teachers, police, etc, programs and needs. This can go on for decades after the person is no longer providing services and may be longer they their actual working career in some instances. Some can also start collecting a public pension while taking another public job. This obviously is not sustainable. Perhaps at a certain level of income public employees should be moved over to a private saving system like everyone else or we will see major reductions in services in the future. You might want to talk about that in a future show.

Jun. 18 2014 10:32 AM
Bob from Huntington

Along with healthcare and adequate vacation time, retirement is another area in which our country, "the greatest economy in the history of the world," fails to provide for its overworked citizens.

If you struggle in retirement, it's attributed to your failure to provide for it during your working years--in a society that over the past several decades has experienced the constant redistribution of wealth to those at the top.

It's a national disgrace.

Jun. 18 2014 10:31 AM
Estelle from Brooklyn

The caller who retired well on a NYC teacher's pension must be on pension tier I or II. Since then there have been many more tiers which require substantial contributions and pay a lot less.

Jun. 18 2014 10:26 AM
The Truth from Becky

Unless you are a millionaire, the poor win in this game, there is NO 9 to 5 retirement plan that can keep up with the expenses of the elderly!

Jun. 18 2014 10:25 AM
Carole Ferleger from NYC

I will be 76 years this year. I retired at 62 years. We sold our home in the suburbs and bought a co op in the city. We have all entertainment at our finger tips and all l the best medical care we can receive.
My husband was self employed. He was also a good money manager. In addition I worked for about14 years for a government agency and I was able to take my medical coverage with me. It also covered my spouse. I also have a pension and collect social security. We have a good life.
My parents never had a lot of money. My father died at retirement. My mother lived on a small pension she received from her work and social security. She paid a modest rent living in a rental in Brooklyn.

Jun. 18 2014 10:25 AM
Ellen from New York city

You were talking about a self-employed plumber and a domestic worker collecting "social security." But the law didn't apply to either category of worker; in fact a lot of this New Deal legislation was based on a compromise with southern legislators that exempted sharecroppers, maids, and other categories of black workers from the laws. The woman's parents lived simply but adequately in retirement had saved money on their own; no help from the government.

Jun. 18 2014 10:20 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ john from office

If your "work" means sitting at a desk and talking or standing in front of one and talking you can "work" your entire life or at least until your partners have to dump you owing to geezer lapses... I think we need some more words to describe the "work" people do and what that entitles them to from the SSI system.

Jun. 18 2014 10:18 AM
Larry Brown from Michoacan, Mexico

I would like to say: 'Watch what you wish for'. My paternal grandfather did the stereotypical retirement to Florida from Rochester,NY after working for Bausch and Laumb/Xerox for years, and seemed to love it, remarried, traveled, but I as a military retiree with my wife in her hometown in Mexico, just wish I HAD SOMETHING TO DO. We have (just)enough money, and do enjoy living here for the most part, but I now realize the value of having a purpose, a place to go, when waking up in the morning.

Jun. 18 2014 10:16 AM
Chris from Red Hook

Cold Warrior

My father-in-law was an intelligence officer during the Cold War. In Berlin in the 1950's, he was deliberately exposed to and contracted polio from a Soviet double agent, and was handicapped for the rest of his life.

In the 1990's, president Clinton declared that intelligence agents injured in the Cold War would be eligible for veteran's benefits, so in retirement my father in law was finally able to get more than the retirement benefits of a career government bureaucrat.

-Chris in Red Hook

Jun. 18 2014 10:14 AM
Mia from New York City

Unless you work for a company that has a pension plan or a 401k or similar you are up a creek. Which is unfair to the poor who are usually not employed by the corporations. Compare this to most of Europe where a retired person can actually live on their retirement unlike here where you can't survive on Social Security alone. With union busting the middle class is shoved out from retiring.

Jun. 18 2014 10:14 AM
Shawn from NJ

I think retirement is backwards. We spend so much time away from our kids, so we can save a bunch of money to retire. And by then, we are old, kids are grown up and moved away, and you don't have much to spend on besides healthcare (because you didn't exercise when you were younger, too busy working).

We live way below our means so that we can take multiple vacations a year with the kids, I pick my kids up every day at school, and we try to spend as much time as possible together, WHILE WE ARE TOGETHER.

We have it completely wrong here in the US.

Jun. 18 2014 10:12 AM
john from office

Most private practice attorneys I know never plan for the future and must work into their 80s to keep up their life styles.

On the other hand, work keeps you young and involved. Sitting at home leads to death.

Jun. 18 2014 10:10 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.