Working Notes: 401(k) blues, challenging unpaid internships, and Shape magazine on workplace bullying

I use this Working Notes feature to flag items worthy of attention. Here are pieces on 401(k) plans and the retirement funding crisis, unpaid internships, and workplace bullying (especially as relevant to younger women).

1. Steven Greenhouse on 401(k) plans — Here’s more evidence of the crisis in retirement funding, in the form of a thorough look at the inadequacy of 401(k) plans as retirement funding vehicles, courtesy of labor reporter Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times. It begins:

JOHN GREENE worked for 30 years at an Oscar Mayer plant in Madison, Wis., deboning hams and loading boxes of hot dogs. His 401(k) plan grew to $60,000, and soon after retiring he began withdrawing $3,600 a year from it, money that allowed him and his wife to take what he called a wondrous two-week trip to Scotland, his ancestral homeland.

But when the financial markets plunged four years ago, his 401(k) dropped to less than $18,000.

2. Plaintiff Eric Glatt on unpaid internships — Eric Glatt, lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures for unpaid wages to interns working on the production of “Black Swan,” explains why he and others were not paid for their labor in this blog post for Other Words:

Because I, like scores of other workers on that film, was a relative newcomer to the industry. And being a newcomer to the film industry often means doing unpaid work, an illegal arrangement camouflaged behind the term “internship” — a term the movie industry embraces for its promise of alchemy, magically removing costs from budgets to the delight of producers and shareholders.

Eric is now pursuing his law degree at Georgetown University Law Center. I wrote up a blog post about an enjoyable brunch meeting we held in New York last December with writer Ross Perlin (author of Intern Nation) and journalist Tiffany Ap.

3. Jeannette Moninger for Shape magazine on workplace bullying — The September issue of Shape magazine includes a lengthy, informative feature on workplace bullying by Jeannette Moninger. Jeannette is a health writer who convinced the editors of Shape to devote quite a bit of space to this topic. Hat’s off to both for bringing this information to a demographic (younger women) often targeted by workplace bullying. (It’s also the first and likely only time that I’ll be quoted in Shape!). Here’s the lede:

When Stacie started as an account manager at an architectural firm two years ago, she couldn’t believe her luck. In a tough market, she’d landed her dream job at age 31, complete with a great salary, friendly coworkers, sleek high-tech offices, and a corporate gym membership. There was just one problem: Her boss was a nightmare.

Retirement expert: “Most middle-class Americans will become poor or near-poor retirees”

According to economist Teresa Ghilarducci, one of the nation’s leading experts on retirement policy, “(i)t looks like most middle-class Americans will become poor or near-poor retirees,” adding that “(t)he baby boomers will be the first generation that will do worse in retirement than their parents.”

Ghilarducci’s comments appear in The Week, a weekly news magazine, as part of an informative piece (“The not-so-golden years,” April 27 edition) spotlighting a largely neglected Boomer retirement savings crisis that has grave implications for America’s social and economic well-being.

401(k)s vs. pensions

While the economic meltdown is one reason for this crisis, the more systemic cause is the disappearance of the traditional pension plan. The Week reports that from 1980 to 2006, the percentage of private-sector workers with employer-funded pension plans dropped from 60 percent to 10 percent. The 401(k) plan — voluntary and largely employee-funded — would replace the pension as the primary retirement savings vehicle.

Unfortunately, most workers have not built 401(k) accounts sufficient to fund a comfortable retirement; the average 401(k) balance “is just over $60,000,” according to The Week. Even worse, “(m)ore than half of U.S. workers have no retirement plan at all.” Social Security payments “averaging $14,780 a year for individuals and $22,000 for couples” won’t bridge the gaps.

Consequently, it appears that many Boomers will find themselves working much later into their lives, seeking cheaper housing, and cutting back sharply on spending.

Policy options

From a policy standpoint, there are no easy choices. Below are two possibilities; the first is something of a pipe dream for now, the second is more politically viable.

Public pensions for all?

In an earlier New York Times op-ed piece in response to cutbacks in New York State’s pension plan for public workers, Ghilarducci calls upon the states to create public pension plans for all workers:

Rather than curtailing public and private pensions, New York and other states could save millions of workers from impending poverty by creating public pensions for everyone.

While the recession bears some blame for the looming retirement crisis, experts agree that the primary cause is more fundamental: Most workers do not have retirement accounts at work.

Shoring up Social Security

At the very least, we need to ensure the viability of Social Security for generations to come. The anticipated shortfalls in the Social Security fund can be addressed by raising the current cap on payroll taxes that fund the system.

Currently workers pay a flat 6.2 percent in payroll taxes, but that tax caps out on the first $106,800 of income. Eliminating or raising the cap would go a long way toward keeping the Social Security fund in decent shape in terms of paying out promised benefits.

The other option for Social Security is means testing, which would reduce or eliminate benefits for the most economically fortunate. The politics of this possibility will certainly push the “class warfare” buttons, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see proposals enter the picture as the crisis becomes more evident.

Generations at war?

In addition, there’s a potential political war looming in the not-so-far distance, one between the Boomers now facing a bleak retirement and younger generations trying to get their starts in life.

It is fair, for example, to ask people entering the workforce and starting a career to bail out their elders, while facing a brutal job market and carrying enormous amounts of student debt? As I wrote in this short article two years ago, generational battles over taxation and public spending may become ugly and divisive.

No quick fixes

Also, this won’t be solved by older Boomers suddenly deciding to save more, even assuming they are in a position to do so. Retirement funds are built by accruing returns on principal over time, and five or even ten years isn’t a sufficient period to do so, especially at a time of declining rates.

In addition to the individual burdens, the economic ripple effects of so many Boomers going into spending lock-down mode will be significant. What happens when a generation that built an economy based on credit and consumption suddenly puts on the brakes by sheer necessity? We may be about a decade away from finding out.

Folks, it’s not a pretty picture, but I won’t apologize for sounding like a broken record about it in the pages of this blog. It’s a crisis we’d better face earlier than later.

***

The full print version of The Week article is not available online, but a shorter version along with other pieces on the retirement crisis can be accessed here.

For more articles from this blog related to retirement readiness, Social Security, public pensions, and the economy, go here.

More dire news on U.S. retirement readiness

Margaret Collins reports for Business Week (link here) on a new study showing low rates of personal savings in American households:

About 60 percent of U.S. workers said they have less than $25,000 in savings and investments, according to an Employee Benefit Research Institute survey.

…“People get the fact they shouldn’t be optimistic, but instead of saying I’m going to save more today, they just say I’m going to defer my retirement age once I get to 65,” said Jack VanDerhei, EBRI’s research director and a coauthor of the study.

…About half of all U.S. workers don’t have access to a retirement savings plan through their employer and many younger people haven’t been saving long enough to build a large balance, VanDerhei said of the findings.

The EBRI retirement savings study doesn’t include pension plans, but before we get overconfident that pensions will come to the rescue, let’s consider the shrinking number of workers who can look forward to pensions in retirement. Last year, Emily Brandon reported for U.S. News & World that roughly 3 in 10 workers have pension plans.

In addition, many existing pension plans are teetering on the edge. For example:

City of Stockton, California

Stockton, California, is facing the real possibility of bankruptcy, which could result in the end of its pension program for city workers. As reported by Gosia Wozniacka and Haven Daley for the Associated Press (via Yahoo! News, here):

City leaders seeking a way to dig out from under massive debts have taken a step toward making Stockton the nation’s largest city to file for bankruptcy.

…Under the state law, municipalities considering bankruptcy must first seek mediation with creditors, with the goal of settling debts without filing for Chapter 9 protection.

…”If they vote for mediation, it is the first step towards bankruptcy,” former City Manager Dwane Milnes told KCRA-TV. “That means 1,000 people could lose retirement benefits.”

American Airlines

Workers at American Airlines, currently in bankruptcy reorganization, apparently have dodged a bullet fired by their employer, which originally announced that it would terminate its pension plan completely. As reported last week by Chris Isidore for CNN (link here):

American Airlines retreated Wednesday on its proposal to terminate its workers’ pension plans and dump them on a federal agency as part of its bankruptcy reorganization.

The company will freeze the plans instead.

The move, which must be approved by a judge, means employees would not accumulate any additional benefits — and American’s future contributions to the underfunded plans would be reined in.

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Related posts

New Boomer reality: From “shop ’til you drop” to “work ’til you drop” (2012)

Notable books — February 2012 (suggested books on retirement planning and personal finances)

The humane way to fix Social Security (2011)

The press discovers the coming Boomer retirement crisis (2011)

When Boomers retire (or try to): America’s coming train wreck (2010)

New Boomer reality: From “shop ’til you drop” to “work ’til you drop”

A generation that spanned the “shop ’til you drop” decades of constant economic growth and burgeoning consumer debt is now looking at a tougher era of “work ’til you drop.”

John Rogers of the Associated Press (via Yahoo! News, here) examines the lot of some 78 million American Baby Boomers who have experienced “the misfortune of approaching retirement age at a time when stock market crashes diminished their 401(k) nest eggs, companies began eliminating defined benefit pensions in record numbers and previously unimagined technical advances all but eliminated entire job descriptions from travel agent to telephone operator.”

The message from job experts: Keep working if you can. For example, Rogers shares these observations from Ed Lawler of USC’s business school:

With unions no longer in a strong position to fight for benefits like pensions, with jobs disappearing or going overseas, and with Gen Xers and even younger Millennial Generation members coveting their jobs, Lawler warns this is no time for boomers to quit and allow the skills they’ve spent a lifetime building to atrophy.

“My advice is above all don’t retire,” he says. “If you like your job at all, hold onto it. Because getting back in in this era is essentially impossible.”

Lawler’s advice, while eminently sensible, raises issues. For example, workers in physically demanding jobs may find their bodies giving way even if they’re not in a position to retire. Also, the longer workers stay in the workforce beyond traditional retirement age, the fewer the opportunities will be for new entrants to the labor market.

In sum, I don’t think we have any easy answers to these ongoing challenges. The days of painless economic options, if we ever truly had them, are gone. But I do hope we face our choices before panic and desperation set in, because if we wait until that point, it will get very, very scary. While I don’t think the situation will be as bad as what we’re seeing in Greece right now, we should look there for some cautionary tales.

Related posts

Labor Day Reader 2011: Stormy weather for workers (2011)

Apocalypse tomorrow: The debt ceiling crisis and Social Security (2011)

When Boomers retire (or try to): America’s coming train wreck (2010)

Jobs, Unemployment, and the Great Recession (2010)

Notable books — February 2012

In the spirit of looking at things anew as the new year unfolds, some of you may be looking hard at your personal finances, investments, and retirement savings. If you’re like me and need to learn about this stuff from the ground up, here are some helpful sources:

Andrew Tobias, The ONLY Investment Guide You’ll EVER Need (rev. ed., 2010) — Several years ago, a dear cousin (now sadly passed) turned me on to this book, which proved to be a great starting place for understanding investing and financial planning.

Ilyce R. Glink, 50 Simple Steps You Can Take to Disaster-Proof Your Finances: How to Plan Ahead to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones and Survive Any Crisis (2002) — Slightly dated, but still full of good advice. For me this book falls into the “do what I say and not what I haven’t done” category. Yikers, I have some work to do this year.

John C. Bogle, The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns (2007) — The founder of the Vanguard Group is one of the most respected people in financial services.

Ben Stein & Phil DeMuth, The Little Book of Bulletproof Investing: Do’s and Don’ts to Protect Your Financial Life (2010) — Recommends a quirky approach to assembling a retirement investment portfolio; a bit too complicated for my tastes. But at least read it for the wise and sobering commentary about saving for retirement.

Laurence J. Kotlikoff and Scott Burns, The Coming Generational Storm: What You Need to Know about America’s Economic Future (rev. ed. 2005) — A pre-meltdown warning shot about tomorrow’s economy, interweaving economic analysis with concrete advice on personal finances. This book, more than any other, taught me about projecting how “big picture” economic trends affect our personal finances.

Edwin M. Bridges with Brian D. Bridges, The Prudent Professor: Planning and Saving for a Worry-Free Retirement from Academe (2010) — Well, I probably found this book a little too late to put into practice all the advice that might provide me with that elusive “worry-free” (yeah, right) retirement, but it’s helpful for academicians of any age.

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A note to readers — I know that for some, “financial planning” and “retirement saving” are wholly unrealistic concepts right now. Many folks are barely making ends meet (if that), and if you are in this situation, I hope that your circumstances improve markedly and allow you to plan your finances with a longer-range perspective.

***

Starting in February 2012, every month I’m sharing short mentions of books related to recurring topics on this blog that I have read, reviewed, or used, a mix of newer and older works. On occasion, like above, I will emphasize a specific theme.

Labor Day Reader 2011: Stormy weather for workers

Photo by David Yamada

Folks, by just about any measure, this is a brutal Labor Day. Millions of workers are without jobs, too many of the employed struggle with unpleasant or even abusive work situations, and the economy is in dismal shape. Here’s a snapshot of commentary on the state of American labor 2011:

To work, we need jobs

Labor Day newspaper features and editorials are all about jobs. For example, here’s the lede from Katherine Yung’s two-part series on jobs and the economy in the Detroit Free Press (link here):

Almost 2 1/2 years after losing his job as an inventory technician, all Mark Baerlin has to show for his lengthy job search are notebooks filled with information about the 343 jobs for which he applied.

So far this year, the Dearborn resident has gotten five interviews. None of them panned out.

In early July, Baerlin exhausted all 99 weeks of his unemployment benefits. He has been saving every penny he can, canceling doctor appointments and using as little water, lighting, air-conditioning and gasoline as possible. If the 51-year-old doesn’t find a job soon, he could lose his house.

Unhappy workers

America’s workers are very dissatisfied with their jobs and their employers. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer summarize important polling results in a New York Times op-ed piece (link here):

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which has been polling over 1,000 adults every day since January 2008, shows that Americans now feel worse about their jobs — and work environments — than ever before. People of all ages, and across income levels, are unhappy with their supervisors, apathetic about their organizations and detached from what they do.

Future of the Middle Class

In a thought-provoking analysis for The Atlantic, Don Peck asks whether America’s middle class can be saved (link here):

Arguably, the most important economic trend in the United States over the past couple of generations has been the ever more distinct sorting of Americans into winners and losers, and the slow hollowing-out of the middle class. Median incomes declined outright from 1999 to 2009.

***

The post-war decades of the 20th century were unusually hospitable to the American middle class—the result of strong growth, rapid gains in education, progressive tax policy, limited free agency at work, a limited pool of competing workers overseas, and other supportive factors. Such serendipity is anomalous in American history, and unlikely to be repeated.

Yet if that period was unusually kind to the middle class, the one we are now in the midst of appears unusually cruel. The strongest forces of our time are naturally divisive; absent a wide-ranging effort to constrain them, economic and cultural polarization will almost surely continue.

Goodbye pensions, goodbye retirement?

Labor lawyer and journalist Steve Early, writing for The Progressive, warns of the demise of pensions (link here):

This Labor Day, workers need to beware: Management may be making it harder to retire.

That’s because more employers, in both the private and public sector, have phased out traditional pensions and replaced them with individual retirement accounts.

…The dismal performance of the stock market over the last three years has wrecked a lot of people’s 401(k) plans. But even before the collapse of Lehman Brothers — and the stock market’s current roller coaster ride — the shortcomings of 401(k) coverage were quite apparent.

On Wisconsin

The unprecedented attack on public workers and their unions in Wisconsin has become a matter of national significance. Dave Poklinkoski, writing for Labor Notes, reflects on the meaning of Wisconsin and lessons that can be drawn from it (link here):

The struggle in Wisconsin was the awakening that labor movement activists had hoped for—disproving the modern notion that those who work will not stand up for themselves. Several hundred thousand people rallied in communities across the state.

…But the recall elections of six Republican senators turned out to be an education opportunity lost, in a sea of negative attack ads.

And in our own corner of the world….

…we’re renewing our commitment to stopping workplace bullying:

For those who would like to become active in state campaigns to enact the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill, please go here. And for an extensive Labor Day interview with two pioneers of the workplace anti-bullying movement, Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie, conducted by Bob Morris, go here.

Meltdown Monday: Like watching my fantasy baseball team get slaughtered, only it matters

I confess that I have spent my day alternating between semi-productive writing and e-mailing tasks and less productive glances at the stock market reports. At the bell, the Dow has finished another 600 points down.

Like millions of Americans, what happens with the stock market bears directly and indirectly on my financial health. And like many fellow Americans, I am a bit player in this casino economy.

Some of my retirement savings are invested in the stock market, mostly through funds that include stock holdings. The only way I can opt out of those stocks is to change funds, or simply withdraw the money and park it in a money market or stuff it under my mattress.

Like fantasy baseball, with just as much control

As I kept glancing at the Dow Jones Average, I felt like I was watching my fantasy baseball team getting slaughtered, only with stakes that matter.

Once you put your retirement savings in a given fund, there’s not much you can do about the day-to-day fluctuations of the market. It’s like playing fantasy baseball: Once you’ve set your lineup for the day’s games, all you can do is watch the action unfold.

Unlike sports, however, where at least there’s a winner for every loser, in the casino economy you can have a few winners and a multitude of losers.

The real players

Meanwhile, a much smaller and wealthier bunch of people are playing the game actively. Some are making money from the volatility of the market, even on days when the Dow is tanking. If they lose a lot, they won’t have to worry about paying their bills, because they’ve got plenty of room for error. Their “rainy day” funds exceed the lifetime earnings of many Americans.

By comparison: Social Security

Most Americans are in the stock market to save and invest for retirement. By contrast, our unfairly maligned Social Security system is a helluva lot more secure and dependable than this crapshoot, yet certain political and business interests are bound and determined to dismantle the closest thing we have to a viable national pension system.

Tomorrow is another day

And that’s what alarms me.

Apocalypse tomorrow: The debt ceiling crisis and Social Security

The immediate crisis facing Washington D.C. is a looming August 2 deadline concerning the national debt ceiling. If Congress does not authorize an increase in the national debt, the federal government will be unable to pay out on its obligations and essentially will go into default and enter shutdown mode.

This will affect, among other things, the ability of the government to pay Social Security benefits to retirees and the disabled, and to meet its payroll obligations to federal workers.

The inability to reach a budget agreement is being labeled by many in the press as a bipartisan failure.

While many of Washington’s failures indeed are bipartisan, in this instance we have Democrats willing to cut public benefit programs way beyond what popular opinion actually supports, while Republicans are barely moving an inch on their insistence that these programs be slashed through the bone. Hardly anyone is talking about even modest tax increases on the most fortunate.

So, to the extent that the Democrats aren’t willing to capitulate completely and the Republicans aren’t willing to move much at all, you could call this a bipartisan failure to negotiate and engage in compromise.

But more accurately, the field of play right now — despite a Democratic Senate (if barely) and a Democratic President (ditto) — is clearly to the right of center. The Republicans, who often manage to outflank the Dems even when they are in the minority, are flexing muscles rippling from the 2010 midterm elections, while the Democrats act like they’re afraid of getting sand kicked in their faces.

Regardless, in the midst of all the political posturing and cowering, we’re ignoring the bigger picture here, and what’s being put on the table is scary.

It’s about (in part, at least) Social Security

Have you noticed there’s not a lot of detail in the news coverage of this situation about program and spending specifics? The (justifiable) concerns about a government shutdown and default and the aftershocks it would create on Main Street and Wall Street have obscured any national discussion about what’s at stake beyond keeping the lights on.

But make no mistake about it: One of the biggest items on the table is Social Security, even though the program has enough money to fully fund benefits for some 20 years, without raising the payroll tax or reducing scheduled benefits. President Obama, in one of his invertebrate moments, is open to “compromise” on Social Security, meaning he’s willing to negotiate over reductions in benefits.

D.C. and Social Security in 2011

Picture an America where millions of Baby Boomers are hurtling towards their retirement years. Stung by the market meltdown of the Great Recession, their own spending and buying habits, and persistent, high unemployment rates, very few are on a safe path towards building retirement savings sufficient to allow the kind of retirement they anticipated in some hazy mind’s eye. Some are now responding to this realization by devoting larger portions of their paychecks to their 401ks, IRAs, and savings accounts — assuming they are gainfully employed, that is.

For many Boomers, it means that Social Security will be a significant, perhaps primary, source of retirement age income. I say “retirement age” because it’s not clear they’ll be able to retire.

The folks in D.C. — GOP and Dems alike — know this, but we’re not hearing much about the long-term, because that’s not how the Beltway works. They also know that raising the income cap on Social Security payroll taxes would do wonders toward ensuring the long-term solvency of the program, without any reduction in anticipated benefits to individuals. Nevertheless, asking people earning more money — you know, those who are responsible for a disproportionate share of campaign contributions — to add a bit more to the public coffers is out of the question.

Meanwhile, in America’s heartland, some of the folks who are joining the clamor towards “belt-tightening” have no idea that they are endangering a major source of their eventual retirement age income.

D.C. and Social Security in 2021

Picture an America where millions of Baby Boomers now have hurtled into their retirement years. Even those who engaged in frenzied savings at middle age to build up 401ks, IRAs, and savings accounts fell short of what they really needed to save, because the game of saving for retirement strongly favors those who started young and managed to invest presciently in our casino economy.

Those assessing their retirement readiness find that Social Security benefits are a lot less than they anticipated. Many, justifiably fearful of running out of money in retirement, decide to stay at their jobs later. Accordingly, older workers are remaining in the labor force way beyond traditional retirement age. Younger folks trying to break into the job market find that there’s not a lot of room for them, in part because workers at the senior level aren’t leaving.

Meanwhile, a small percentage of older Americans — those who managed to save and invest well while benefiting from a tax structure rigged to their advantage — will retire in relative peace and comfort.

That’s America in 10 years. And 20 years, for that matter. Cuts to Social Security benefits today will only make the situation worse.

America, breathe easy

My guess is that the immediate crisis will be averted, that we’ll see some sort of budget “compromise,” and that everyone will breathe easier knowing the government won’t be closing its doors.

Having dodged that bullet, we’ll continue to ignore the bigger challenges facing us in the not-too-distant future.

***

Related posts

The humane way to fix Social Security

The press discovers the coming Boomer retirement crisis

When Boomers retire (or try to): America’s coming train wreck

The humane way to fix Social Security

Certain online programs should have a built-in laugh track. Chief among these are the countless “retirement savings calculators” designed to help us determine if we’re saving and investing properly for retirement.

Go ahead. Google the term and then plug in your numbers. If you’re like most of us, the results may make you cry — or laugh madly. This includes many who are gainfully employed and have contributed regularly to a 401K or an IRA.

Bottom line: Many of America’s Baby Boomers (and those of generations to follow) are woefully unprepared for retirement. I’ve been beating this drum for some time — see links to posts below — so I shall not belabor the details.

Cutting Social Security

Although these challenges are well-known, the current mantra on Capitol Hill is that we should cut Social Security benefits by reducing payouts and raising the ages for individuals to be eligible to collect.

These measures are urged because the Social Security Administration has projected that by 2019 it will be “paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes,” and by 2041 it will have sufficient funds “to pay only about 78 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits.”

However, as other policy analysts have noted, the projected funding gap can be addressed fairly and cleanly by raising the income cap on payroll taxes. Currently the top 6 percent of income earners pay FICA only on the first $106,800 of their income. By removing the cap, the Social Security fund will be able to pay full benefits for everyone and rebuild its surplus.

How about raising Social Security?

But even a fully funded Social Security system will not be sufficient to ease the coming pain, when countless aspiring retirees look at the cold reality of a modest monthly check and sparse retirement savings.

Amidst the clamor of calls for belt-tightening, labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan — one of our most thoughtful social and political commentators to boot — proposes raising Social Security benefits in a recent New York Times op-ed piece (link here):

…I cringe when Democrats talk of “saving” Social Security. We should not “save” it but raise it. Right now Social Security pays out 39 percent of the average worker’s preretirement earnings. While jaws may drop inside the Beltway, we could raise that to 50 percent. We’d still be near the bottom of the league of the world’s richest countries — but at least it would be a basement with some food and air.

Geoghegan is enough of a wonk to spell out how to raise the extra money, including removing the payroll tax cap, accessing estate tax revenues, and other measures.

What’s at stake

But the main message we should be sounding is what prompted Geoghegan to write in the first place, that is, the importance of providing a decent public pension to the elderly.

In 2004, conservative economist and retirement investment guru Ben Stein wrote these words in a personal finance column (link here) that have stuck with me:

It is fine to have no money when you’re young. It is not fine to have no money when you’re old. It is even fun to be poor when you’re in college or right out of it. But to be retired and in your 70’s and not know how you are going to pay your bills – that is terrifying. In fact, it’s a grotesque nightmare.

What is life like if you are old, weak, tired, not in great health, lonely and have no money? You are miserable, and you are in fear and you are gaunt on the inside.

I may not agree with Stein on many things when it comes to politics, but there is a deep ring of truth to these words. We need to harness our better natures and find a way to tackle this challenge in a humane way. A solvent and responsibly generous Social Security system can be a big part of the solution.

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Related posts:

The press discovers the coming Boomer retirement crisis

When Boomers retire (or try to): America’s coming train wreck

Is America’s Social Security system going broke?

Bullying across the lifespan: In senior facilities, too

We know all about school bullying and workplace bullying. Now, sadly, we can talk about bullying in senior homes.

Like junior high

Paula Span, blogging for the New York Times (link here), reports:

This phenomenon, a sort of social bullying, apparently comes as no surprise to administrators of senior apartments, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and senior centers. “What happens to mean girls? Some of them go on to become mean old ladies,” said Marsha Frankel, clinical director of senior services at Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Boston, who has led workshops (innocuously called “Creating a Caring Community”) for staff and residents.

Span quotes a woman whose mother was bullied in an assisted care facility, referring to the behaviors as exclusionary and cliquish, much like junior high school.

Bullying across the lifespan

We need to keep connecting the dots. Bullying doesn’t stop once folks leave high school.

There is no one-size-fits-all response. Combinations of education, counseling, training, and legal intervention must be tailored to fit the various settings in which bullying occurs.

But it starts with acknowledging the ubiquity of these behaviors throughout our lives.

Maryland coalition

An example of this expansive approach is the Montgomery County [Maryland] Coalition for the Prevention of Bullying and Related Health Risks, an informal coalition of mental health providers and educators formed three years ago to address bullying behaviors.

Coalition members have been active in supporting legislation and public policy initiatives in Maryland that address bullying issues, especially within the schools.

Co-founder Dr. Jorge Srabstein of Children’s Medical Center in Washington D.C. has been promoting understanding of “bullying across the lifespan” as a way of grasping how abusive behaviors start at a young age and endure through our senior years, and the Coalition is a living manifestation of that commitment.

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