In all the chatter during the 2016 election campaign about the neglected and overlooked people in the country, precious little was said about the tens of millions of people over 50 who are in desperate or near-desperate financial straits.
And maybe that makes sense, because these people have been neglected and overlooked for so long they are barely part of any conversation. It is time we raise awareness and help give these people a voice.
I've written about this issue before, and will keep writing about it - now more than ever, because the already staggering statistics are becoming more daunting by the day as the ranks of people over 50 swell, and - in this tech-driven, youth-focused society -- their opportunities shrink.
I've talked about the fact that of the 100 million people over 50 in the United States, anywhere from 25 to 40 million have no money saved either for retirement or for an unexpected significant expense -- something as pedestrian as a new washer and dryer, to a new (but used) car, to serious uncovered or undercovered medical needs.
Of course, for many if not most of these people, retirement is not an option. But ironically, neither is finding another decent paying job as they try to keep body and soul together for the 20, 30, 40 more years they may live.
I've talked about the general problem, but now I am going to spend the next few columns introducing you to some of these people.
The assumption many make is that if you are 55, 60, 65 and don't have money saved, you must have:
• squandered it
• have a drug or drinking problem or mental illness
• can't manage your life property
• haven't planned for a changing workplace,
• but in any event, it is your fault.
And in some cases, that's true. But in many more, it isn't. There are nearly as many paths to senior poverty as there are people in it.
Each of these people has a story to tell. Here are a few -- with many more to come.
BILL (not his real name)
Bill is in his early 60s, and has a PhD from a top 20 university. True, his doctorate is in a somewhat esoteric field, but he still has one, and for a time following graduate school, he had a fairly traditional, if not predictable, career path, noting that in the 1990s and 2000s, "academic opportunities shrank radically" as universities hired fewer full time faculty and more part-time adjuncts whom they paid "poverty wages."
Still, he says, he was never without an income until 2012 when a combination of his position at a small private college being defunded and what was to become a long, ugly divorce and custody battle -- "the perfect storm" he says -- plunged him into a dark and uncertain future.
His house went into foreclosure and he slogged through the court system in two states fighting for custody of his then teenage children. He got sole custody of the kids, but then the one good full time teaching job he was offered, he couldn't accept because it wasn't in the jurisdiction where he had custody.
He moved into his sister's basement with his two children where he lived for three years before moving into his mother's house at the other end of the country.
He knows people judge him for not being willing to take menial jobs to help pay the bills, saying, "but it didn't make sense, because taking menial work that wouldn't be a path to any future."
He says he is "constantly applying for jobs" and has gotten a few part time teaching gigs, but he knows it is tough.
"I think I'm as tech savvy as my kids," Bill says, but he also knows that these days, they way people hire starts with machines and algorithms, "your prospective employer at the outset is going to be machines"
Bill says that despite his slide into poverty, he never wishes he had pursued a different path.
"My professional colleagues are all sympathetic and understand ... beyond that in the world, there's no understanding or sympathy, just a feeling that you're so well educated, you must be doing something wrong"
KATHLEEN BIRD (HER REAL NAME)
Kathleen (Kathy) Bird has a five page resume that includes high level positions in large corporations, state agencies, and journalism, the awards for which take up a full page in her resume. She was mayor of Hopewell, NJ, a small town just outside of Princeton,
Not on her resume is that she is an alcoholic, bi-polar, and was homeless for a long period until very recently -- a long way from the five bedroom home she, her husband and two children occupied until her messy divorce brought her alcoholism, and other aspects of her life, into the public eye.
She was fired from her job, her alimony ended, she says, "I went from a six-figure income to zero." Perhaps needless to say, she was removed from her job as mayor. "I was publicly drunk at the township government's Christmas party."
She now finds comfort in her art work, her friends, and the knowledge that she he endured and survived.
"Diseases like mine, and homelessness, wreck people's lives regardless of their previously comfortable income levels and advanced education. We come in all ages, colors, religions, shapes, and sizes -- but we all have our own stories," she says.
VICTOR (NOT HIS REAL NAME)
After a successful career in finance on the west coast, where he was armed with an ivy league MBA, Victor, now in his early 60s, got sick with congestive heart failure. He now has to sleep in a seated position "to avoid choking on the fluid in my lungs."
He is told he can only be "cured" through a heart transplant, but his doctors told him he is not a good candidate for that because of an antibiotic-resistant staph infection he got during surgery a decade ago.
He put history on gofundme.com, a crowdfunding website that specializes in personal rather than business financial needs.
He now lives in a small apartment on the $322 he gets from a previous employer's pension, as he fights losing battles with insurance companies and his recent employer, which because was deemed "not disabled, my firm viewed me as an employee who wasn't returning from a medical leave of absence and fired me. That deprived me of executive compensation I had earned and stock options I had been granted."
Victor admits to being "desperate" but remains hopeful. It is a far cry from the ivy league and the world of high finance.
Whether we blame these people for their fates, or admit there are circumstances people encounter which they never could have predicted, the one certainty is there's millions of them. With more stories to come.