I Have Not Hit Rock Bottom Yet… but It Could Happen Any Moment
It’s not like I have hit rock bottom. I am not living under a bridge eating cat food. What is true is that for the first time I can see a sequence of events where rock bottom is possible. And it wouldn’t take much.
I am in trouble if my water heater gives out, or my car needs a major repair. And I am not alone. Millions of us in our 50s and 60s are standing on the precipice, one crisis from tumbling over the edge.
This does not encompass only those of us who have been struggling all our lives and now, in our fifth and sixth decade, are having a very rough go of it. I am talking about folks who have had good lives and decent incomes now finding themselves facing the prospect of downward mobility, even poverty.
I am talking about people like you and I, jettisoned from the workforce unexpectedly, forced out; in some cases, jumping before we were pushed. Now in our late 50s and 60s, we face a “don’t want you” job market. We’re on nobody’s short list. Getting arrested might be easier than getting a job.
Sometimes Not Working Is Not an Option
It’s not like we’re rolling in dough. Sure, a few of us have pensions and 401Ks we can depend on or husbands/partners still bringing home the bacon. But a lot of us have not saved nearly enough to support ourselves as we age.
If we are in our 50s or 60s today, in good health, we’re looking at living another 25-30 years. That’s a long time to pull it together financially, if we are struggling now.
Many of us are struggling now, and we’re simply not talking about it. Sometimes even our families are in the dark about what is really happening to us.
And because we still have the vestiges of our past successes – the living quarters, maybe the clothes, even the car – our true plight, what’s really going on with us, can remain hidden from view.
But the Cracks Are There
We’re the ones putting $7 worth of gas in our SUVs or ducking outings with friends, too broke to join. Or when we do, we’re ordering iced tea and soup when everyone else is chowing down on $24 entrees.
And if you’re wondering why we don’t invite you over anymore, it’s because even if we have managed to keep up with our house payments, we’re scrimping on home maintenance and repairs – and it shows.
The roof needs replacing, and the sink is stopped up. The refrigerator makes weird knocking noise, and we can’t remember the last time we had the carpet cleaned.
All This Hiding and Pretending Is Exhausting
What if there is another way? What if we began to talk about what is happening to us, to draw on our collective wisdom as women to chart a way forward?
What if we ditched the shame and embarrassment about where we have landed and began to explore what a richly textured and meaningful life on a more modest income could really look like?
What if I share what I’ve learned as I grapple with this question? What if you share what you’ve learned, and we hold each other up through the rocky patches?
We Are All Trying to Figure It Out
I’m certain that at times it will be rocky. This world has never before been populated with tens of millions of us living well into our eighties. We’re making it up as we go along. There are no road maps, no established pathways and only few role models.
So, don’t get overly worried if your path forward is not clear. No one has it totally together. As my grandma used to say, “Don’t compare your inside to someone else’s outside.” We’re all trying to figure it out. I say, let’s figure it out together?
And don’t think you’re the only one facing uncertain work and is in financial jeopardy. Nearly a third of all Americans age 55 to 64 have no retirement savings whatsoever.
Also, among those who have saved, the median value of their retirement accounts will only last two, maybe three years on the outside. I expound on this a lot in my book “Fifty-Five Unemployed and Faking Normal”.
Do you find it difficult to be honest with others about the challenges that you are facing in life after 60? Let’s talk, my sisters. How are you doing, and who knows the truth about what’s going on with you? How do we support each other as we navigate the waters ahead? Please share your thoughts below!
Elizabeth White authored a book about the millions of older Americans facing the prospect of downward mobility in old age. Fifty-five, Unemployed, and Faking Normal shares some tools and strategies boomers can utilize to make peace with changed circumstances, overcome financial hardship and achieve a more inner-directed and satisfying life.