The Best of…Lack of Guaranteed Income Makes Retire Years Bleak, Study Says

Published July, 2008, Pawtucket Times

          Good health, combined with a strong work ethic, keeps sixty-nine year old Herman Brewster looking for full-time job in his later years.  The former Providence School Teacher now works part-time at the state’s Adult Corrections Institute (ACI) as a counselor, a place he once worked at for over 18 years.  Since 2006, Brewster has held a number of part time jobs since he left his full-time teaching position.  He believes a recession along with being almost seventy years old, hinder his chances of landing a full-time position with benefits.

            Herman and his wife, Madeline, are life-long Rhode Islanders who have raised two sons in their Eastside residence. Now empty nesters, they are faced with a lower household income.   With less household income, the couple no longer  takes annual vacations or trips, nor do they have discretionary income to purchase Native American pottery for their collection, a once favorite past time.

            Madeline, 57, a secretary in the Applied Math Department at Brown University, has now become the major breadwinner of the family, bringing health insurance benefits to the couple. 

Cutting Back Expenses

            “We have already cut back on our [household] spending,” says Herman, acknowledging that the couple’s belt tightening is due to skyrocketing gas, utility and food costs.  Although the couple is now eating out less to save money, they will splurge weekly by going out for Sunday breakfast, a less expensive alternative when compared to ordering from a lunch or dinner menu.    

            Herman acknowledges that he cannot even live comfortably now on his Social Security check.  “Fortunately between our two jobs we have not gone into our savings yet,” he says.  When retirement comes, probably in five years, he plans to take income out of his retirement annuity.

            While currently walking on a financial tight rope, the Brewster’s ultimate retirement will be made easier because of Social Security payments, combined with their guaranteed incomes, an annuity and pension.  According to a newly released Ernst & Young Study, others may not be so lucky, especially those living only on a Social Security check.

New Retirement Study Released

            According to the national economic study released by Ernst & Young on Monday, 54 percent of retirees in theOcean State entering retirement are at high risk of outliving their retirement savings. The study, commissioned by the Americans for Secure Retirement coalition, finds that in order to not outlive savings, the average Rhode  household will have to reduce their standard of living by a whopping 19 percent.  Both national and state-specific data were made available in the study entitled, “Retirement Vulnerability of New Retirees: The Likelihood of Outliving Their Financial Resources.”

            “Many Americans envision a leisurely retirement where their lifestyle continues much as before,” said Tom Neubig of Ernst & Young, in a press release heralding the release of the economic study.  “Our work shows that this is not a realistic expectation and that, with the current state of savings, retirees will have to cut back far more on expenditures than they had ever expected.”

            The researchers also found that retirees in Rhode Island are much better prepared to have a financially secure retirement if they have a guaranteed source of retirement income beyond Social Security, such as annuities and defined benefit plans. For example,Rhode Island residents who have a guaranteed source of retirement other than Social Security have an 18 percent chance of outliving their assets if they retain their pre-retirement standard of living.  However, those with Social Security as their only guaranteed income have an 80 percent chance of outliving their assets during retirement.

            “As a guaranteed source of retirement income, life annuities relieve the risks and burdens of managing a nest egg and can maximize savings’ value over the course of an individual’s retirement years,” adds Joe Reali, Chairman of the Americans for Secure Retirement coalition. “Life annuities are the only vehicle besides pensions and Social Security that provide a steady stream of income for life – a “paycheck for life.”

Other key findings of the study include:

            Almost three quarters of middle-income Rhode Island households seven years from retirement (near retirees) can expect to outlive their financial assets if they attempt to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living;

            Over half of middle-class Rhode   retirees can expect to outlive their financial assets;

            Almost nine out of ten near retirees and eight out of ten new retirees without an employer pension plan in Rhode Island are likely to outlive their assets;

            Married couples are more likely to outlive their financial assets, due to their longer joint life spans, than single households. Single females are more likely to outlive their assets than single males;

            Near retirees in Rhode Island would have to reduce their standard of living on average by 32% to reduce the likelihood of outliving their financial assets (failure rate) to only five percent;

            Finally, new retirees in Rhode Island would have to reduce their standard of living on average by 19% to reduce the likelihood of outliving their assets to only a five percent failure rate

            The national study should serve as a warning to many of the 77 million middle income baby boomers — it’s never too late to get your financial house in order.  Guaranteed sources of income can be instrumental help you maintain your pre-retirement standard of living.

            Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  This article was published in July 2008. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

The Best Of…The Challenges of Caring for Your Aging Parent

Published July 3, 2008,  All Pawtucket All The Time

          It’s not easy being a parent.  Combine this with being a primary caregiver for an aging frail relative and you work a 48 hour day.  Sixty year old Karen Sciolto, like many of her aging baby boomer peers, took on care giving responsibilities in her mid-fifties.

           Five years earlier, the Scituate resident began her experience of taking care of frail adults by working as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).  “You really had to physically be able to move a person around and help to meet their emotional needs,” she stated.  She acknowledges that she was “sort of a jack-of-all-trades” and had to “know a little bit about a lot of things.”

          With her CNA job, Sciolto knew that the caregiver role and responsibilities in her family would ultimately fall upon her shoulders because her parents, even relatives were getting older.  “Very soiled long-john underwear discovered after the visit to an emergency room and a later inspection of the uncle’s house revealed “cockroaches and filth.”  He just could not take care of himself, she said.   Scattered piles of newspapers mingled with important papers and money found hidden in holes in his mattress pushed the niece in 2000 to become a caregiver for her 87-year-old uncle whose physical and mental health were deteriorating. 

         For six years, Sciolto was the solo caregiver of her uncle.  She would drop him off each day to the local senior center to give him physical, emotional and social stimulation.  The aging baby boomer would also juggle a variety of daily tasks — CNA assignments, housework, along with raising her daughter and caring for three horses.  “As a caregiver my whole life, revolved around meeting his needs,” she said. 

       Many times she was overwhelmed with the stress of providing 24 hour a day care for her frail uncle.  “You were lucky if you went to bed and could get a good nights sleep,” she added. 

A Generational Experience…

         According to Roberta Hawkins, Executive Director of the  Alliance for Better Long-Term Care, Sciolto’s care giving experiences are not unique but common to thousands of aging baby boomers in Rhode Island.  

         Rhode Island’s most visible aging advocate, who has led this nonprofit agency for over 32 years, understands care giving both on a personal and professional level.  In her sixties, Hawkins looks back at her personal experiences. In her younger days she took care of grandparents while raising her young daughter. In recent years, Hawkins would raise her grandchildren while providing care to her disable husband.

        Hawkins warns aging baby boomers “not to take on [responsibilities] that you can’t do.”  Know your abilities and also your limitations, she says.  “You really need to think clearly if you are the right person who can provide that care.”

        “Often times, adult children will feel guilty if they do not take care of their disabled parents,” observes Hawkins. “This may not be the right move due to their responsibility of raising children.  They may have limited patience to deal with the changing health care needs and personality of their older parent.”   

        If older parent and child did not get along in their earlier years, care giving just won’t work,” Hawkins says.  “There won’t be the patience or the connection needed to provide care in peace and harmony.”

 Every Day and Night

          “Care giving is a 24 hour, 7 day a week job,” Hawkins says. “Even if you bring in outside caregivers during the day you will still have to deal with nighttime and weekends,” she says.  “Nobody is happy” with household stress.  This may push the older person into withdrawing more into themselves so they become less of a burden to their adult children.   

          Sending your older parent to a senior center or day care site might not be the most appropriate strategy,” Hawkins adds.  “If the person was not a friendly or a social person, attending day care will not be a very happy experience,” she says.

         Meanwhile, Hawkins says that some problems may also surface if an adult child hires an outside caregiver to keep their aging parent at home.  “The older parent may be a mistrustful person and not want a stranger coming into their own home. This person may resent the fact that their children won’t be there for them and this can result in continuous complaints about the caregiver,” she says.

       “Before hiring an outside caregiver or becoming one yourself, always have a very frank discussion with the older person about your decision,” Hawkins recommends.  Conversations should begin before a health issue forces an adult child or spouse to make this decision without the wishes and desires of their older parent being known, she adds.

       Also, when the time comes to consider placement in an assisted living or nursing home facility, it becomes crucial for the older person to be included in the decision making process.  “Give them all the pros and cons for each and every decision,” Hawkins says.  “Match the older person to the place they are going to live in, not the other way around.”

Promises Made, Promises Broken

       Finally, caregivers must give themselves some time off to recharge their batteries.  “If there are siblings around be adamant that they help take care of their older parent, too” she tells aging baby boomers shouldering the care giving responsibilities.  “Everyone promises but they tend to be too busy with their lives to give any assistance,” she says.

       Sadly, Hawkins brings up the old saying “One mother can bring up five children but five children may not take care of the mom.”  So, true, she says, noting “I see it all the time.”

       Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer covering aging, medical and health care issues.  The article was published in the July 3, 2008, All Pawtucket All The Time.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.