'I did everything right and I have nothing to show for it'
Erich Ferdinand photo
By GARY BAUMGARTEN
A friend, in his late 50s, has been a hard worker all his life. Productive. A good family man. Provided for his wife and his children.
But now, he is suddenly out of work. And at his age, the prospects are slim.
He still has obligations. A mortgage. Children in college. He can’t retire. Not yet. Perhaps not ever. Yet, he’s been forced into retirement.
“You work all your life and then this happens,” he laments.
“I know it was an economic decision. They can pay younger people with less experience to do my job for a lot less. But what are you supposed to do? They might as well put me on a boat and send me out to sea to die.”
Strong, emotional words. But words that I’m hearing over and over again from people of my generation.
“I did everything right but I have nothing to show for it,” says another pushing-60 man, who has been gainfully employed since high school. He too, has suddenly lost his job.
Another friend is living in his son’s house. Because his business is – thanks to the economy – on the rocks and he can’t afford to pay the rent on an apartment any longer.
“My employees don’t know how bad it is,” he says. “They don’t realize that I haven’t taken a draw from the business in three years. I could shut down, but then they’d all be out of work and I’d be turning my back on my customers.”
An unusual case? I wish it were. But it’s not.
The Baby Boomers are aging. Everyone saw that coming of course. But many of us have nothing to show for our years of contribution to society. Nobody anticipated that.
“I move from friend to friend’s house,” says one 60-something friend.
“I guess, technically, I’m homeless. But I don’t show up as a statistic because at least I have a roof over my head.”
The friend, a doctor who retired early because of health problems, was doing OK, until the stock market, where he had put his hard-earned savings for a rainy day, went south. Now the rainy day is here, but there’s no money.
“I’m thinking of growing and selling marijuana,” he says. “Worst that can happen is that I get busted and sent to prison. At least then I won’t have to worry about imposing on friends any longer.”
Another friend, a manufacturer’s rep, is jobless because the company went out-of-business. He has a part-time job with no benefits making calls for a polling company. The salary isn’t much but, so far, he’s managed, barely, to pay the mortgage every month.
“Everyday when I drive to that job I get sick to my stomach,” he says.
“I used to travel the world for my company. They put me up in four star hotels. Paid all my expenses. I was living like a king. And now, I worry about whether I have enough money for gas to be able to drive to work.”
These stories are typical, it is sad to say, of a lot of people these days. Some are coping by moving in with friends and relatives and combining resources. It’s the kind of lifestyle one thought one left behind when they graduated university. This is for the kids, not the adults, they think.
The ones who have spouses who work are fortunate by comparison.
“I’m so lucky my wife decided to go back to work just before this happened or we would have lost our house by now,” says one friend, who was vice president of a major organization before his job was eliminated in a round of budget cuts.
“It’s just been the two-year anniversary of my being laid off. Two years without a job. And I’m a guy who has worked everyday since college.”
“I don’t really have anything left to look forward to in life,” one recently laid off man in his 50s said. “I can find a job in my field, but it pays one-quarter of what I was making before because the marketplace is flooded with people like me. That’s fine when you’re right out of college and just getting started. But for me, the real prospect is that I will lose my house. I’ll find someplace to live on the cheap. I’ll have zero discretionary income. Which means I won’t travel. I won’t be able to afford my leased car.
“I was looking forward to enjoying my life when I got older. That’s what I was always told it would be like. But I only have Social Security and a minimal 401K plan to look forward to. And that’s not available to me for a few years yet.
“I’ve always had dreams. Always looked to improve things in life. Always had something to look forward to. But no more.
“My friends tell me to stop thinking this way, but the way I see things now, the only thing left to look forward to is death. Because to me, to live like this, isn’t really living.”
Gary Baumgarten is director of news and programming at the Paltalk News Network