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Howard Gold's No-Nonsense Investing

July 3, 2021, 11:34 a.m. EDT

Baby boomers face financial distress and age discrimination

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Howard Gold

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“I think you have to market yourself as a consultant contractor,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re not going to make any money at all.”

He’s worried his skills will atrophy if he doesn’t find work soon. “In today’s job market, if you lose your edge, you’re screwed,” he said.

McCarty is drawing unemployment benefits and qualifies for Medicare in September. His four children are grown and his domestic partner has a job. But he doesn’t have much saved in his bank account, or in his IRA, from which he has made a partial withdrawal.

“At least I have the motivation knowing that I don’t have the cash to fall back on,” he said, “So, when I’m 68 or 70, I don’t want to be sitting with a can and a sleeping bag on a corner somewhere, begging for food.”

Berndt’s children also are grown and his wife works full time. He qualifies for Medicare and plans to take Social Security when he reaches full retirement age, just past 66. But though he’s in decent financial shape, he said, “I think I still have a lot to contribute,” and is even considering a career change.

“I’ve decided I’m going to pursue something other than engineering,” he said in a message. “45 years is enough. I just haven’t figured out what that will be yet.”

Karen Mater

When Karen Mater was a young geologist working on oil wells in southern Indiana, a male rig worker said to her one day, “I don’t think women belong in oil fields. What do you think?”

“I said, ‘Well, I’m the wrong person to answer, because here I am.’” It was the kind of super polite comeback you’d expect from a mother of three from the Great Lakes State. Yet Mater’s quiet determination made her a pioneer in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field.

But the strain on her young family of being away for two or three weeks at a time caused her to change careers. Using the computer knowledge she’d acquired as a geologist, she took a job at nearby Central Michigan University, where she had earned her master’s degree, working in the department that oversaw charter schools, which were then launching in Michigan and across the country.

Twenty-three years later, in August, the university let her and others go. “They decided they had to really slim down and for whatever reason, they picked my job to eliminate,” she said.

Since then, she’s applied to “at least 45” jobs, but with no luck. “I think this online hiring has made it worse,” she said. “The human factor has totally gone out of it. You can’t fight the computer.”

Fortunately, Mater put aside 13% of her salary each year in her retirement plan and the university made generous matching contributions. Her three daughters are grown (one is in divinity school) and her biggest financial challenge is a jump in medical insurance premiums to over $600 a month. This year, she’s eligible to get Social Security survivors’ benefits .

That’s because in June 2019, Wayne, her husband of 32 years, was suddenly rushed to the emergency room, where doctors diagnosed him with kidney cancer. Later, specialists said they couldn’t give him chemotherapy, dialysis or even a biopsy. “I knew 14 hours before he died that he wasn’t going to survive,” she said. “His last week of life was his first week of retirement.” He was 67. Almost a year later to the day, her father died suddenly of a blood clot that traveled to his heart.

Such devastating losses make a job search look unimportant. “Emotionally right now I think I’m OK. But some days I get real down and out,” she said. She is working part time at her church for a lot less pay, but it keeps her busy and she finds comfort in her faith.

“I go to church and I say, well, it’s in God’s hands. Whatever He wants He’ll do and I’m good.”

William Budd

William Budd, 67, is one of the few people who served in both the U.S. Army and Air Force. He put in 3 ½ years in the Air Force right after high school, then did a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, followed by 17 years in the Army, mostly in Germany.

When he retired after 20 years of service, he pursued his dream of being an accountant, getting his bachelor’s and master’s degree in accounting from the University of North Texas when he already had three teenage daughters.

Nearly two decades of financial analysts’ positions followed at companies that ranged from defense contractors Raytheon and Honeywell to restaurant chain Panera Bread, largely in Arizona. But in early 2017 he found himself, at 64, out of a job. He’s been struggling to find full-time work ever since.

“I have had interviews on site, telephone, or internet with 176 different companies in the Phoenix metropolitan area,” he told me, but until recently got no full-time offers. He’s filled the gap with substitute teaching, volunteering at his church and a job as a courier that paid half as much as his previous jobs did.

He has struggled financially, too. He and his wife, who works in a bank, sold their home and now live with his mother and two of their four children. “We’re kind of like the Waltons,” he said.

Years of big expenses and salaries that couldn’t quite cover them took their toll. “Not having a paycheck for 2½ years, I actually had to do a chapter 7 bankruptcy. I probably mismanaged my money a bit,” he acknowledged. “Sometimes the more money you get, the more money you spend.”

He still has little personal or retirement savings, though he’s been getting a military pension since he left the service and started taking Social Security benefits at 64.

A few weeks after I interviewed him, Budd messaged me to tell me he got a full-time temporary job, which he hopes will become a permanent one, as an accounting specialist with the state of Arizona. At least there’s good news for somebody at a time where there hasn’t been much for anyone.

He started late in December and, he wrote, “I had to take a 60% cut in pay” from his last full-time job. “My passion for the work I do is sufficient payback,” he wrote. ”It certainly made my Christmas wish come true!”

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