Boomers Are Proud, Poor and Pretending

Dani Ross, Columnist with The Carolinian

“You know me. I am in your friendship circle hidden in plain sight. My clothes are still impeccable; bought in the good years when I was still making money. To look at me you would not know that my electricity was cut off last week for nonpayment, or that I meet the eligibility requirements for food stamps,” says Elizabeth White in a talk on the personal finance crisis.

White was speaking about an entire generation of proud African-Americans whose pride is walking them straight into poverty.

The last wave of Baby Boomers was the first wave of financially liable retirees. Many of them did not belong to the pension group. They were the corporate guinea pigs of the 401k experiment. Financial responsibility was shifted from the companies that benefitted from decades of hard work to the workforce that were novices in financial planning.

During the working years many couples were enjoying having two incomes and plenty of money to party, vacation and send their children to college. Squirreling away 15 percent–20 percent of their earnings, to maintain your standard of living in retirements, was not a common practice in our culture.

For many families there was also money coming in from the government for military service in the Vietnam War, which some folks thought would last their lifetime. They followed the principles of the three-legged retirement income stool. You were supposed to have your savings, pension and Social Security to live your retired life comfortably.

When that stool became wobbly, rock bottom became a scary reality. Many boomers are just a job loss, medical diagnosis or divorce away from insolvency. It doesn’t take much. Most households in America only have enough savings to replace one month of income. Half of American households do not have a retirement account of any kind.

Out of shame many folks get good a faking normal.

The financial burdens later in life manifest into physical burdens. Weight gain, heart disease and other stress related illnesses are causing African-Americans, especially women, to die relatively young at high rates.

Every day in America 137 black women die of a preventable disease. That’s more than gun violence, cigarettes and HIV combined. The past few decades of flat wages, disappearing pensions, the skyrocketing cost of housing and healthcare has caused a hardship that no one in this country planned for.

For veterans, or their widows, the burden is coupled with disrespect. Many Vietnam veterans still cannot get benefits based on failing health caused by chemical exposure to things such as ‘‘agent orange.’’ Records have been lost, departmental responsibility has been shifted or veterans have simply died while waiting for an answer on financial compensation.
The widows of veterans are in an even worse position, because they may not have all of the information that is being requested. Thus, yielding them a denial of benefits from a situation theirs spouse have died from, that was caused by our government.

The bottom line is, it is okay to say that you are not okay. It is often hard to be the first to say it, but you will soon find that you are not the last.