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Retirement eludes many low-income workers

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    Gwen Strowbridge, 71, posed for a photograph on Oct. 18 wearing her work uniform at her home in Deerfield Beach, Fla. Strowbridge works six days a week caring for a 100-year-old woman. She has worked all her life and plans to work until she can’t physically work anymore.


    A grateful Fidencio Sanchez on Sept. 21 pushed his paletas cart one last time before a group of of media after accepting a check for $384,290 during a news conference outside the ice cream shop, Paleteria y Neveria Poncho, where he rented his paletas cart in Chicago’s Little Village.

CHICAGO » It was a striking image. A photo of an 89-year-old man hunched over, struggling to push his cart with frozen treats. Fidencio Sanchez works long hours every day selling the treats because he couldn’t afford to retire. The photo and his story went viral and thousands of people donated more than $384,000 for his retirement.

His story is a window into a dark reality: Many low-wage workers say they can’t afford to retire.

With no money saved for retirement, home care worker Gwen Strowbridge, 71, of Deerfield, Florida, plans to stay on the job until she can’t physically work anymore.

“I can’t see it in the future. I’ll stop working if my health won’t allow me to keep working,” said Strowbridge. Now 71, she works six days per week caring for a 100-year-old woman in Florida.

Studies have found that about one-third of low wage workers like Strawbridge say they’ll never be able to afford retirement. The problem is particularly acute among minority women.

A 2016 study by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that one-quarter of workers 50 and older say they won’t retire. Among low wage workers, earning less than $50,000 a year, it was 33 percent.

Strowbridge’s first job, in the 1960s, paid 98 cents an hour, setting her out on a path of low-wage jobs that stretched across five decades. She raised three sons with her husband, Roy, a dock attendant who unloaded cargo from boats. The couple was forced to use the little money they had saved for retirement on family medical issues.

Strowbridge stopped working briefly after she turned 63 to care for her husband, who had quadruple bypass heart surgery. Their Social Security benefits weren’t enough to cover medical expenses, rent, utilities and food. When he died, she went back to work.

Jacquelyn B. James, co-director of Boston College’s Center on Aging and Work, said it is common for low-wage workers to stay on the job, with no plans for retirement.

“It is really easy for them to say ‘I’m going to work forever’ but things happen,” said James. Among those things: health issues.

A 2016 report by the nonpartisan research nonprofit National Institute on Retirement Security shows that many black, Latina and Asian women have to work past retirement age to be able to afford basic expenses. Women were 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished.

The research showed that for men between 70 and 74, about 19 percent of their income comes from wages. For women, it’s about 15 percent.

“You couldn’t put nothing in the bank because I was always underpaid,” Strowbridge said. “I just didn’t make enough to save.”

Januario Salgado’s financial situation mirrors Strowbridge’s. He never saved for retirement. He is 64 years old and doesn’t plan to retire. He works 10 hours, six days per week in a grocery store in a suburb outside Chicago.

“I couldn’t save,” Salgado said in Spanish. “I worked a lot to help my family. I used to send money to my parents in Mexico.”

While caring for elderly parents is a norm in Mexican culture, many of the children don’t think it’s their responsibility, said Salgado, who came to the United States 40 years ago. His sons are among them.

Salgado plans to start collecting Social Security benefits when he turns 65 but he will continue to work as long as he is physically able. He doesn’t want to become a burden to his children.

For Esther Bolanos, 64, the situation is even more difficult. A domestic worker, she has been able to save some money for retirement but said it is not enough. She won’t be able to receive Social Security benefits because she doesn’t have legal status.

“It’s sad to think about my situation. I was forced to close my business and leave the economic stability I had in my country to come here,” Bolanos said in Spanish. “I left everything behind because of the violence.”

Bolanos owned a successful cheese factory in Mexico City, but success made her a target, she said. Her husband was killed and she was robbed at gun-point twice. After the last robbery, she decided to migrate north.

“I told my daughter, I’m going to take you to a safe place” even if I have to work cleaning houses, she said. If Bolanos had stayed in Mexico City, she would be retired. But now that she’s in the U.S., she doesn’t think she ever will.

“I don’t think about retirement,” she said. “I think about what would happen to me if I get sick.”

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  • This is why there is support for Trump and Sanders. The laws on pensions have been changed to favor businesses and the wealthy. As Trump points out repeatedly, American workers are hurt as US jobs are sent overseas. The idea of working in a factory and retiring with even a modest pension has disappeared. Factories have gone overseas, and US businesses no longer provide pensions. A 401K is great for someone earning six figures, but with today’s cost of living, a 401K is meaningless for someone caught in a low paying job– even a middle income job. Government jobs which used to be how people worked their way to teh middle class have been cut to their lowest level in generations and replaced by low paying private contractors.

      • ““You couldn’t put nothing in the bank because I was always underpaid,” Strowbridge said. “I just didn’t make enough to save.”>>> So, in all these years, nothing could be done to make you a more valuable hire? I just have one question. I want the name of the person who stamped “denied” on her student loan request.

        • More people are falling into her condition. The route out of low paying jobs is being closed off. Look at Hawaii– a cheap rent is $2,000 a month, but too small for a family. No more tranditional jobs like those in government that led to children going to college and becoming doctors, engineers, teachers, and lawyers. Cost to go to UH is $10,000 to $11,000 per year per child– without the degree you won’t get anywhere any more. Look how many people in Hawaii work two jobs– almost everyone working in tourism service jobs works two jobs, but they are stuck there– a drop in the economy and they are homeless.

        • So soundofreason, you are saying it’s her fault, that she was never educated enough to get a good job.A student loan is not the answer for everybody. You don’t know what her life was like to even make a comment like that. How much in student loans do you owe?

        • Upperkula: If not her fault, then whose? Mine? Her life was the product of HER choices. And as far as the two jobs thing – you can thank your local leaders for that too. Employers, in THIS state, have to pay health benefits for full time employees so they refrain from hiring them in response. Student loans I owe? None. Paying for 1/2 my kids’ loans though. They’re responsible for half so they have some skin in the game.

      • Hillary too could care less about the working class, hon. She’s a career politician who’s used public office to line her pockets for decades. Trump’s an individual not aligned with any political group or party. Unlike his opponent, he’s not in it for the money. Hillary is part of a party rife with corruption and willing to do anything to retain power.

        • Right yhls. And there will be no low paying jobs. The democrats will make flipping hamburgers into a career. Start them at $15 an hour. That’s the liberal vision. Everybody has equal pay, no matter what it took to get the job or how replaceable you are. Supply and demand flies out the window.

    • Temp, Trump might make that claim, but he sends his manufacturing work overseas as well. And pointing something out does not mean that he offers a solution…

    • Agree, I was going to vote for Trump, but read where Hilary will make college free in 2021. My kid graduates HS in 2022, so this is just perfect. I am so Happy.

      • One denominator for this low wage earners, they did not care about their tax payer funded public education; that is the reason they are stuck at low paying jobs. When people get something for free, they don’t give a &hit, just drive down section 8 housing area, many of the buildings are dilapidated because the housing is not theirs, it’s free they don’t give a &hit.

  • It is a disgrace how this country treats the elderly. Instead of complaining about the cost of social security, the country should be putting MORE money into it, to care for those who worked all their lives, trying to be productive citizens. And stop throwing away money on able-bodied people who choose not to work.

    • Yes, many of us agree. Fully fund SS, now. In fact, stop taking loans from SS for wars and other adventurist militarisms. Fund our People. Stop taking our money we have contributed!

    • Um, you do realize, government money is money taken from the people. Why would you advocate taking money from working people and giving it to those who didn’t plan and save fore retirement?

      If we do what you suggest, then we have to increase taxes for those who are not planning and saving properly for retirement, since they’re going to take more of the people’s money when they retire.

    • I suspect you are on to something. There is value to working that goes beyond a paycheck. The people you meet, the routine of going to work are enriching. Hope you have many more years on the job, and when it’s time to retire, it’s by your choice and no one else’s.

  • Retirement can be the best part of life if one plans. I’m traveling, SCUBA diving , taking music lessons, writing, swimming, running , biking and doing a lot of stuff I never had time for before. (Just as I was getting ready to retire, some of our students were talking to me and asking what retirement was all about. I explained “The State pays me a fairly good wage to stay away.”They said “Cool!” I told them that they need to start saving and planning just as soon as they become independent of their parents.)

    • Do NOT answer this question but there is a big difference in retiring from the DOE as a teacher vs. retiring as a professor at UH or getting your high three as an administrator at UH. Don’t know what the retirement pay is at a private school like Punahou, Iolani or smaller schools.

  • In Hawaii they say “it pays not to work”. Hawaii Reporter in 2013 said that “welfare for a mother of two, said benefits in Hawaii average $49,175 — tops in the nation”. And, “since welfare isn’t taxed, a person would have to earn $60,590 in Hawaii to take home the same $49,175 a person on welfare would”.
    Ref: Since this study was in 2013, the value of welfare is likely much higher now.

    It appears that if a Hawaii person knows how to use the system, they don’t have to be in poverty when old or even when young.

    • Just like those leeches who live in Section 8 housing for generations. Many have no shame in not being productive members of society and living off the hard work of others. Government shares part of the blame for allowing this.

      • When I got out of college, I worked a full time job and a part time job (24-30 hours a week) and most of my part time job income went into saving for retirement. My friends thought I was crazy because they were out having fun while I worked.

        But I’ll be retiring in a couple of years at age 55 and I’ll be traveling and doing things I enjoy because I made those sacrifices back then.

        I think many people simply do not plan for their futures.

        • Wow! Keolu that’s impressive the way you were able to save. Hmmm… I’m just wondering if you ever got married and had kids. I was a great saver (at least 10% of my income plus extra for Xmas and vacations) until I got married and had children. My wife is not a saver like I was so that was the end of that. I weakly gave into her following that notion “Happy Wife… Happy Life”… although I think that phrase is over-rated. Hahaha…

  • “You couldn’t put nothing in the bank because I was always underpaid,” Strowbridge said. “I just didn’t make enough to save.”

    Always “underpaid”? That would imply that the value of your work was more than what you were being paid. I find that hard to believe since you were always free to move to a different, higher paying job, if you didn’t feel you were being treated fairly at your current job. Unless of course you never attained the skills to do anything besides what you were doing. If you were like this your whole life I think it says more about you and the decisions you’ve made than you being “underpaid”.

    “For Esther Bolanos, 64, the situation is even more difficult. A domestic worker, she has been able to save some money for retirement but said it is not enough. She won’t be able to receive Social Security benefits because she doesn’t have legal status.”

    Well if you immigrate illegally it goes without saying that you shouldn’t receive social security benefits.

    I’m all for America being the land of opportunity but there comes a point when people have to take personal responsibility for their own situation. Sure some are born into difficult circumstances but for the most part your situation in life isn’t about luck or some random circumstances but rather the decisions you make and actions you take.

  • Hawaii is not immune to high cost of living and low wages….this is a problem that is rampant in the United States. We need more free handouts =Hillary…OR….big changes to fix this broken system =TRUMP ….go figgah

  • Sometimes the best financial planning can come to moot when severe health issues come into play and one can’t enjoy or use the nest eggs for enjoyment or a comfortable lifestyle !

    • Wizard, you are so right about that. As I have gotten older and many of my younger, close friends have passed or severe health ailments that phrase “The Greatest Wealth is Good Health” is starting to hold a lot of truth.

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