A story by Los Angeles Times reporter John M. Glionna looks at the lives of seniors who are, literally, “too poor to retire and too young to die.”
A piece of Glionna’s work recently appeared in The Herald-Leader, but it can also be found on the LA Times website at http://graphics.latimes.com/retirement-nomads/
Here’s how the story begins …
At the wise age of 79, Dolores Westfall knows food shopping on an empty stomach is a fool’s errand. On her way to the grocery store last May, she pulled into the Town & Country Family Restaurant to take the edge off her appetite.
After much consideration, she ordered the prime rib special and an iced tea — expensive at $21.36, but the leftovers, wrapped carefully to go, would provide two more lunches.
The problem, she later realized, was that a big insurance bill was coming due. How was she going to pay it? Was she going to tip into insolvency over a plate of prime rib?
“I thought I could handle eating and shopping,” she said, “but lunch put me over the top.”
Westfall — 5 feet 1 tall, with a graceful dancer’s body she honed as a tap-dancing teenager — is as stubborn as she is high-spirited. But she finds herself these days in a precarious place: Her savings long gone, and having never done much long-term financial planning, Westfall left her home in California to live in an aging RV she calls Big Foot, driving from one temporary job to the next.
She endures what is for many aging Americans an unforgiving economy. Nearly one-third of U.S. heads of households ages 55 and older have no pension or retirement savings and a median annual income of about $19,000.
A growing proportion of the nation’s elderly are like Westfall: too poor to retire and too young to die.
Many rely on Social Security and minimal pensions, in part because half of all workers have no employer-backed retirement plans. Eight in 10 Americans say they will work well into their 60s or skip retirement entirely.
Westfall hadn’t planned to keep working. But in 2008, as the U.S. economy spasmed, she lost her home and tumbled out of the middle class.
Today, Westfall is one of America’s graying nomads. Although many middle-class retirees ply the interstates in Winnebagos as a lifestyle choice, for Westfall and many others, life on the move is not as much a choice as a necessity.