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Occupy New Hampshire: Why Is This 68-Year-Old Retiree Protesting?

Occupy New Hampshire

First Posted: 10/27/11 03:50 PM ET Updated: 10/28/11 11:13 AM ET

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- As a 68-year-old retired social worker who lives alone in a one-bedroom condo here, Janet Kelly does not fit the scruffy 20-something profile of your typical Occupy Wall Street protester.

And yet last week, she picked up a wooden sign that said "Take money out of politics!" and went to Veterans Memorial Park for Occupy New Hampshire, a local spinoff of the leaderless movement against political and economic inequality. HuffPost asked why.

"It was fundamentally frustration," she said. Kelly's currently getting by with roughly $1,100 a month from the Social Security Administration (the average amount for retirees) and a dwindling chunk of savings.

She said she's haunted by the image of her father, a mechanic and refrigerator repairman, worrying about money. "I can still see his face in my mind saying, 'I have one paycheck left and that's all I have,'" Kelly said. "There was always this fear and this tension and this worry. 'I'm not good enough, I'm not smart enough.'"

Kelly said her father had no schooling past eighth grade, and that he thought she shouldn't pursue a college degree. "When I was in the eighth grade my father said to me, 'You don't need to go to college, you can just get married and have babies.' And he thought that was in my best interest."

Kelly went to college anyway and got a degree in history, partly to rebel against dad. She worked as a teacher and then as a social worker. She protested the war in Vietnam. She got married, had a son, and later a divorce. She moved to New Hampshire for the state's low taxes. She bought her condo in 2005. But now she's afraid her higher education hasn't made her more secure than her father was.

In March 2010, she said she lost her job as a social worker with a local mental health services provider called Riverbend Community Mental Health. The Concord Monitor reported at the time that in response to funding cuts the agency closed one of its locations, shrank its program for the elderly and laid off 12 staff members that month.

Kelly said she took a crack at making money selling nutritional supplements online. "I tried going into business for myself, mindful my parents had supported a whole entire family," she said. It didn't work out and she cut her losses after a few months.

"I started looking for work again [at] the traditional agencies who help people that aren't that good at helping themselves," she said. "I went on several productive interviews but I never got any of the jobs. I sort of felt guilty about getting in the way of the younger people who were just coming out of college, just wanting to build a career in human services, because they need their day in the sun, too."

Older workers are less likely to lose their jobs, but the ones who do are much less likely to find new ones. Kelly said she felt she couldn't compete with younger social workers who had more recent education. Though she does not begrudge them their day in the sun, she remains anxious about her own situation. She worries she'll get sick, or someone will steal her car.

"I have trouble sleeping. It worries me that I'm not that far from being homeless myself," she said as she drove past several shelters in Manchester. Outside one facility, two dozen shabby-looking men and women lined up for a hot meal.

Kelly's savings are a cold comfort. "Okay, so I got 50 grand. That used to be 70 grand, and then 2008 happened and now it's only 50 grand. What the fuck is that? Who are these people that are damaging my life so thoroughly?"

Arthur Delaney is the author of "A People's History of the Great Recession," HuffPost's first e-book.

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