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Once upon a time, I was a retired early childhood educator. A favorite tune and nursery rhyme of mine during my teaching career was "Der Deitcher's Dog" by Septimus Winner. If you don't recognize it by that title, you might recognize it by its more familiar one of "Oh Where, Oh Where, Has my Little Dog Gone?" Kids love it too, and always enjoyed searching for that little lost dog.
In honor of my lost retirement (as you can see, I'm back to work as a writer), or maybe to ease the pain with a little levity, I've rewritten the rhyme to suit my circumstances:
Oh where, oh where has my retirement dream gone?
Oh where, oh where can it be?
With its promise of leisure and days of delight
Oh where, oh where can it be?
The answer, of course, is plain enough if you look at the America I'm living in now and contrast it with the America in which I was born. Let's see if we can find out just where that pesky retirement dream has gone.
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The Dream Busters
The generation into which I was born and raised was one that had survived economic hard times by working hard and saving rather than spending and delaying immediate gratification for greater long-term satisfaction. They bought and paid for things like houses, cars and other large purchases with cash, which meant that they might have to work for a long time before they had the joy of owning and enjoying such luxuries. They had character and strong work ethics, which they passed on to the next generation (mine). They saved money but did not risk that money on chancy investment schemes.
My generation continued in these time-honored traditions but with the advent of credit and the introduction of the concept of buying things on the installment plan, we forgot the important economic lessons we had learned and went for the instant gratification of having the things for which our parents had worked so hard immediately. We gambled with our money in the stock market in an effort to get rich quick without working hard. Naturally, this was the work ethic and value standards that we passed on.
America is reaping the results of transitioning from a frugal, budget minded society to a consumption-based one that wants to spend, spend, spend. Our retirement dreams have vanished due to:
- Stock market crashes
- Government bailouts of failing businesses
- Unheard of unemployment rates
- American jobs lost to other countries because of oppressive tax rates
- Foreign indebtedness
- Financial insolvency of programs like Social Security and Medicare
- Political financial mistakes and gridlock
- Influx of illegal aliens
This is a list that could go on and on, and it doesn't even take into consideration the normal things that can happen in any individual's life to cause financial trouble such as the death of a spouse or divorce, the failure of a business, or the loss of pensions or other retirement savings.
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The New Retirement Reality
The new reality about retirement for most people is that it just is not going to happen as soon as we thought. If you thought you could retire at 62 or 65, the shocker is that you are probably looking at working until 72 or 75 before you can retire. If Social Security is reformed in the manner that is currently being debated, the new retirement age will be 70. This move will be necessary to combat the financial miscalculations that are draining any reserves there might be in the program dry and driving it towards insolvency.
If you have already retired and now find that you cannot live on your retirement savings, you may have to go back to work...if you can find a job in an employment market that is stagnated on a 9+ percent unemployment rate.
You are probably already making some tough, painful choices: should I use my precious fuel to go to my grandchildren's school event or save it in case I have to go to the doctor? Have you renewed your acquaintance with frugal food choices like pinto beans and cornbread? If not, I'll bet you will being doing that soon.
The bottom line here is America is spent out. We cannot bail out anyone else because we can't even bail out ourselves.
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What Needs to Happen
There are no magic wands or magic bullets—whichever analogy you like best—and it is not impossible to turn this situation around and restore the American dream. However, it will involve sacrifice and the pain of behavior change.
On a national level, American voters need to shake off their apathy and oust from office every single politician who has contributed to mortgaging America's future by selling us to foreign powers as indentured servants via debt. Just vote them out.
Next, we need to monitor the results of the new bunch that takes office. The minute we see a return to "politics as usual" and spending addiction, we vote them out. If we throw them out of office often enough, eventually the message will sink in. Americans have had it with oppressive taxation and lack of representation from elected officials. It is our money—not yours—and you will spend it the way we tell you to or you will lose your cushy job.
On a state level, voters can do the same thing. Just vote out the corrupt officials who are bankrupting your state, your city, or your locality. If one little old gray-haired granny (that's me, by the way) can write letters, send faxes, man telephone banks, and burn up the phones lines to Washington, DC long enough to oust Tom Perriello from office, you can too. Sure, there were things I would rather have been doing than investing my time in that way, but as I told him in the volumes of mail I sent him, if he voted yes for the healthcare bill, I would make it my job to vote him out. He did, and I did. You can get rid of them if you want to make the effort.
On a personal level, you can "vote" every time you make a purchase. If fuel is less expensive at a location because of a discount or loyalty card, patronize that location because obviously they want your business. If your bank charges outrageous fees, move your money. Pay down debt and invest in safer investments like precious metals. Cut back but fight back. The American dream of retirement is still alive and available if you are willing to invest the time to find it.
What are your thoughts on retirement and how it seems to be far, far away? Are you safe or do you need to create a new retirement plan? Drop me a comment. Readers offering their comments and suggestions to other readers is another way we can fight the good fight!
- Transcript of interview, Boston's NPR 90.9 WBUR, "American Dream for Middle Class: Just a Dream?" November 6 2011.
- Image: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/iamwahid by iamwhahid
- Image: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1020934
- Leonard, Devin and Winter, Caroline, Bloomberg Businessweek, "In Financial Ads, the Dream Comes Down to Earth" October 27 2011.
- image: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1197499