A Dimming Dream Of Retirement In California
>>> You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition I am Allison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. California has one of the highest numbers of seniors living in poverty in the United States outranked only by Washington DC. Escalating rents in healthcare costs force many California elderly into a path of downward mobility. As part of our statewide collaboration called the California dream, we have this report. >> Reporter: Roseann Goodman is 63. She lives on her own outside San Diego. Her friend since $200 each month. Other friends give her grocery store gift cards. They treat her to meals. >> I accept it with such gratitude. Who I was five or 10 years ago, I could have never asked or taken. >> Reporter: Now pride is a luxury she cannot afford. Goodwin received 2060 and Social Security each month. Some of it includes disability for the rare form of brain cancer she has. Her monthly expenses are $2400. She tries to make up the difference by growing her own food and selling belongings on eBay. >> I have sold whatever I could that is around the house. It might mean Handtools I had since I was in my 20s that my dad gave me for being out on my own. >> Reporter: Goodwin worked 35 years as a sales Representative at companies like Xerox. She said she set aside 10% of her earnings for retirement. Laos and her health problems depleted her savings. She has been thrown another wrench. Her rent is about to go 50% on her one-bedroom apartment. She says the new owners do not care that she cannot afford it. >> It is deplorable to me that we are considered disposable. >> Reporter: The advocacy group justice and aging says Hello housing and healthcare costs along with the decrease in company pensions have made it tough for people to save for their later years. The group says elderly women are twice as likely to live in poverty as men. Overall, the prognosis is gloomy. >> About half of Californians who are working are on track to retire with incomes at the poverty line which is roughly $24,000 a year that will not get you very far in California. >> Reporter: Night read is the director at the UC Berkeley labor center. >> We are looking at downward mobility. That is not the California dream. >> Reporter: She says in your deployment -- employment in California is at all-time high. 70% of people in the state between the ages of 65 and 74 work. That is more than doubled in the 1980s. 19% of Californians older than 75 also work. >> I work all the time. >> Reporter: Merigold Harley is a realtor in San Diego. She turned 70 next month. She also lives by herself. >> I would love to be retired. I know I would have people for dinner every day. Work in my garden. >> Reporter: She says savings and Social Security are not enough. >> I feel betrayed. I feel like there should've been some education. Everyone is afraid of growing old so no one talks about these things. We were expected to get married. That was going to solve our problems. In my case it did not happen. >> Reporter: Kevin Prinivil is a director for justice and aging. >> Seniors of the people who cared for us. It is heartbreaking. They built our communities, taught our kids, worked in hospitals, they built our cities and state. >> Reporter: He says many California seniors are struggling to just survive. >>> This story is part of our statewide California dream collapse nation -- collaboration. Joining us now is John Chung who is talking about how California is taking steps to build a better safety net that is called Cal savers. It offers seniors who don't have a retirement plan through employers a way to save to supplement their Social Security. Thank you for joining us. Start by telling us how does Cal savers work and why do you think it is important. >> We have a growing crisis in California and the United States of America where the next generation of California Americans are going to retire in greater likelihood of poverty than this generation with the global competitiveness and the economy. We have a lot of companies that are not providing a retirement savings plan for their workers. Here in California, we have seven and half million Californians who are working and their employer does not provide a retirement plan. Cal savers is the most significant development in Social Security. What it provides is if you have an employer that has five or more employees, we will have a plan that is available automatic enrollment so that people can start saving money. They can opt out. When they have a plan, people start to say. There is greater likelihood of enrollment. We want to see people who worked hard the whole lives to have goals and retirements. >>> If it is rolled out, is it voluntary or mandatory? >> It is a program that the employer's as I pointed out who have five or more employees will pass along paperwork and information so that the employees can dissipate. The employees will acknowledge they got the information. They can choose not to participate in the program. Is voluntary. >>> What will happen next year ? how will workers sign up for it? >> Individuals, as we witness those transforming in this economy they can participate themselves. It does not have to be those information's where the employers are providing them with some information. We want to make sure that we expand this platform. This program will go into phase later this year. We will have lots of companies participate at the outset we will roll this program in so that eventually all of the participants can take advantage of Cal savers. >>> Whether you are in the -- with the employer or the gig economy. >> Those in the gig economy who are automatically contacted, that's why we are trying to get the information out to individuals so they can voluntarily participate. We want to make sure that all Californians get this opportunity. We don't want to see what was reported by so many people that with the change of demographics, the change in the nature of work that people are left out from having the opportunity to get the best opportunities to save for their retirement. >>> This plan is being challenged by the Harvey -- tax Association saying it's illegal under federal law, is it? >> I think it is unfortunate that this association that advocates for taxpayers, wants to take away an opportunity for individuals who want to say for their golden years. This is a smart program. It is voluntary. Individuals that participate they get to save and we provide them better opportunities. They have filed suit. I cannot comment on the merits of the litigation. We are fully competent -- confident we will prevail. >>> At the key question for them is would Cal savers require raising taxes? >> It would not. This is similar to the states college savings program. Individuals save money for their kids, their loved ones college future. It does not involve taxpayer dollars. Cal savers except for initial loans will be repaid with interest. It does not involve taxpayer dollars. We do not know why they would put this challenge up. >>> Thank you so much for joining us. >>> Thank you for having me.
Each month, Rosanne Goodwin scours her one-bedroom apartment outside San Diego for possessions to sell on eBay.
“I’ve sold photo albums,” Goodwin said. “I’ve sold whatever I could that’s just around the house, hand tools that I’ve had since I was in my 20s that my dad had given me for being out on my own. I just look around and wonder what can I sell now that will generate some income?”
California has one of the highest percentages of seniors living in poverty in the United States, behind only Washington DC, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. One in five seniors in California live in poverty, after adjusting for spending on basic necessities.
And the UC Berkeley Labor Center predicts half of Californians currently working are on track to retire with individual incomes of about $24,000 a year, twice the federal poverty figure.
The California Dream of retirement -- having enough money to enjoy a carefree life after decades of work -- hasn’t lived up to its promise for Goodwin.
Times are lean.
Goodwin receives $2,060 in Social Security benefits each month, a sum that includes disability for the rare form of brain cancer she was diagnosed with a few years ago. But her monthly expenses total $2,400 a month.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Kevin Prindiville, executive director for Justice In Aging, a national advocacy group for seniors. “Seniors are the people who cared for us. They’re the people who built our communities, who taught our kids, who worked in our hospitals. They really built our cities and our state and now to see them struggling so much just to put food on the table or to have housing, it’s brutal.”
According to Prindiville, wage stagnation, high housing and health care costs and a decrease in company pensions have made it harder for people to save for retirement.
The struggle often means reliance on the goodwill of others.
Each month, Goodwin receives a $200 check from friends to help cover her living expenses. Other friends give her grocery store gift cards and treat her to meals.
“Who I am now, I accept it with such gratitude; but who I was five or 10 years ago, I could have never asked or taken,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin earned a bachelor’s degree in history from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in museum studies. She worked for 35 years as a sales rep. She said she placed 10 percent of her earnings into a retirement account. But layoffs and health problems depleted her savings.
Even though she’s stitched a way to stay afloat through selling possessions, growing food in a garden and accepting the generosity of friends, she said she’s been thrown another wrench. Her rent is about to go up 50 percent on her one bedroom apartment.
With few options for affordable housing for seniors, she said she’s at her most vulnerable point.
“It is to me deplorable that we’re considered disposable,” Goodwin said.
Analysis by the California Budget & Policy Center shows the median percentage of household income spent on housing by seniors was 24 percent in 2016. For senior homeowners, it was 19.5 percent. For elderly renters it was 37 percent.
The federal government recommends that people spend no more than 30 percent of their income on rent or a mortgage.
What is different about today’s seniors in California is that they did “all the right things,” said Prindiville of Justice In Aging.
“They worked,” he said. “They were in a relationship. But then something went wrong, a divorce, a death of a spouse, a lost job, a problem with a housing situation.”
Conditions are more dire for women.
“Women are twice as likely to age in poverty than men,” Prindiville said. “They were likely to spend time away from the workforce and at home doing the caregiving but not being rewarded financially for that.”
In 2016, 4.4 million senior women were impoverished in the United States, compared to 2.8 million men, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Overall, more seniors are working well into their retirement.
“California senior employment is at all time high,” said Nari Rhee, who is director of the Retirement Security Program at the UC Berkeley Labor Center.
Twenty-six percent of people in the state, between the ages of 65 and 74, work. Nineteen percent of seniors older than 75 hold a job.
“I work all the time, said Marigold Hernly, a San Diego Realtor who turns 70 next month. “I would really love to be retired. I know what I’d do. I’d have people over for dinner everyday, work in my garden, raise my roses and tomatoes.”
But if she didn’t sell homes, she says her retirement savings and Social Security aren’t enough to pay the bills.
“Every month, the water bill and the gas and the electric goes up and up and up,” she said.
Hernly earned a bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University. She also has a master’s degree. She says she has worked her whole adulthood and can’t believe that she still has to worry about whether she will have enough to support herself at this point in her life.
California lawmakers have started to take note.
In 2019, the state will launch the CalSavers program which creates retirement savings accounts for people who work for employers who don’t offer them.
Lawmakers are also discussing whether to allow more seniors to access food stamps, make it easier to qualify for Medi-Cal and extend coverage to older immigrant adults.
“It’s the first movement we’ve seen in some time for policymakers to address this issue of senior poverty,” said Prindiville. “There’s much more that can be done and needs to be done.”
Pressure on policymakers to do more for seniors is only going to intensify.
“As we see this large wave of baby boomers that don’t have enough retirement savings move out of their working years, policymakers are going to have to think about their needs,” said Erik Bruvold, chief executive officer at the San Diego North Economic Development Council. “They’re going to be housing challenged. They’re going to be medical care challenged. It’s going to be a significant burden on taxpayers and the state.”
Hernly wants to see more job creation and affordable housing for seniors.
Goodwin plans to start looking for another apartment soon. But she said doctors just found a new cancerous tumor in her brain which means surgery is likely to delay her search.
“I worry that the longer I wait, the more difficult it will be to find a place that I can afford.”