THE BLOG
12/20/2011 11:39 am ET | Updated May 17, 2012

What Post 50 Americans Fear Most and Why

The holidays should be a time of joy . . . but that isn't the case for many post 50 Americans.

Always digging deeper into what women over 50 are really thinking (and not just depending on the academic reports and studies, many of which are frightfully discouraging), I asked friends on Facebook to reveal the one thing that keeps them awake at night, that single nagging worry that haunts their sleep and has the potential to overshadow their generally positive outlook on life.

Conventional wisdom might say that women over 50 are most concerned about aging, how many wrinkles they have and how young they appear. There's big business in convincing us that these should be our focal points. As I've written before, women often feel invisible and unimportant once they are over 50, but that isn't a gut-wrenching fear; it's an observation, and one that most women I know shrug off with a knowing smile.

When I asked them to share their worst fear, none of these issues came up. A few mentioned health as a priority, or maintaining the ability and strength to keep doing everything they are doing. But, based on the many responses, it's clear that these women who are out there working (or trying to find work), taking care of their families and contributing to their communities in meaningful ways have something much bigger than crows feet on their minds.

The one common thread that linked their thoughtful comments was this: the fear of not having enough money as they get older.

This anxiety is not unique to women over 50. In a recent article, the Wall Street Journal reported:

At an age when they should be generating peak incomes and savings, many unemployed and underemployed Americans are applying for early Social Security benefits and spending what's left in their retirement accounts.

Those of us post 50 Americans who are fortunate enough to be employed could be working well past our 60s because we didn't save enough to retire. And even though older Americans may be faring better than other age group -- among all U.S. workers, 20 percent are unemployed, underemployed or have given up looking for jobs compared with 17.4% for those between 55-64 -- it doesn't negate the growing fear that many will have to drain their savings--if any savings exist--just to make ends meet.

Women seem to be in the most precarious position as we age. Financial destitution could end up being more than just a fear for far too many in this country; it could become a fact. In a recent interview, Ken Robbins, a geriatric psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin said,

Men tend to be more financially secure, make more money, and have bigger pensions and Social Security checks. Widows are often left with dramatically less money.

Compounding the situation even more, women are not regaining jobs lost in the recession as quickly as men. A recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that of the 1.3 million jobs created in 2010, some 90 percent have gone to men. Women have gained just 149,000 jobs.

Granted, male-dominated industries such as finance and construction were hard-hit in the downturn, resulting in extensive media coverage of the "mansession." But as Deborah Jacobs notes in a recent Forbes story, men have recovered 32% of the total jobs lost between December 2007 and the present; women have recovered just 20%.

As unemployed women of all ages look for work, cultural biases may hinder their search. While anti-discrimination laws prohibit the practice, some employers may secretly believe that male workers will put in longer hours or be more dedicated to their jobs simply because they are not the ones who are, or will be, mothers.

What's the solution?

Given that we are living longer, haven't saved enough for retirement, and clearly need to have the necessary funds to support ourselves as we age, America must understand and address this dire situation--immediately.

Here's what our country should do:

  • Stop ageism.
    • Create more jobs.
  • Offer access to affordable health care.
  • Pass the Equal Rights Amendment to stop job discrimination.

Here's what we can do:

  • Stay healthy (I recently wrote that the #1 financial risk as we age is our health, and boomers--especially those over 60--are already the sickest and most expensive in terms of medical costs, which has become the fastest growing health issue in the U.S.)
  • Stay current with our skills.
  • Vote for government officials who are supportive of the goals of post 50 Americans.
  • Save more and spend less.
  • Live below our means.
  • Invest the time to understand how to invest our money.
  • Consider living with friends and family members to combine resources.
  • The best advice of all is this: It's okay to be afraid, but it isn't okay to live in fear. Do not let fear get in the way of making prudent financial decisions that could have a positive impact on your future. Stay in touch with others who are supportive, caring and sensitive to your situation. And lastly, take back control of your life. It's never too late.

 

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