You will never retire

Tom Palome, a picture from Bloomberg News site. Since this article first circulated, he's had some... problems.

Tom Palome, a picture from Bloomberg News site. Since this article first circulated, he’s had some… problems.

One of the things that happens with FaceBook (besides the fact that they don’t pay taxes) is that the people you choose as friends act as a sort of filter for your news. You might know this by accidentally logging onto FB as someone else. I was at a cybercafe recently, and the person using the workstation before me had not logged off FB. He and his friends were Alex Jones acolytes and believers in all things Tea Party-related, and they were trading posts back and forth about the birth certificate (none thought it was genuine). Trolling through a few screens of his posts, it was hard to believe this individual and I were from the same planet, let alone the same nabe in Brooklyn. I am increasingly hard pressed to think that we’ll ever find common ground as citizens if we are getting our facts from such different sources.

That said, my point was that my FB feed has been dominated by different people posting links to this article about a one-percenter guy who has not been able to retire. It originated in Bloomberg News, but has been linked to all sorts of other media, mostly left. The bare bones of the story are that Tom Palome, a 77 year old guy, is still working, even though he was a corporate guy making big bucks at the height of his career. He’s open about it and the reasons it happened–his wife died, he had to take care of his kids, and he went freelance because he wanted his children to live in the house they’d grown up in. But it surely didn’t help that (like most Americans) he probably took the 2008 downturn on the chin. And now he works part-time at Sams Club and as a bartender at a local country club. It’s impossible to tease a cautionary tale out of his narrative–if only his wife hadn’t died?  How do you duck that one?

And when the article has been posted, there have been plenty of reactions to it. Many people have posted angry bromides about how this was a personal failure on Palome’s part. That seems to be the point on some websites. But to me, the story was indicative of a problem that surpasses Palome and how he planned for retirement. If Tom Palome, who had fairly decent resources, can’t swing retirement, who can?

According to Bloomberg, some 55% of the Baby Boomers have no resources for retirement. This is on top of the millions who did put money aside in 401K but had to borrow against retirement after the 2008 crash. It should be remembered that the 401K program was never intended to replace traditional pensions. But that’s exactly what has happened over the past few decades. People got through to retirement by cobbling together whatever they’d managed to put aside in savings and stocks, augmented by the equity in their homes. And one of the unsung villains in the retirement meltdown was the Clinton era Boskin Commission ‘reform’ that had the effect of magically lowering the inflation rate (and thus the COLA adjustment) for retirees. If not for the ‘weighting’ and ‘hedonics’ games of the Clinton era, Social Security would be paying about 60% more.

As anybody who’s been paying attention has noticed, the problem in our retirement system is not unique to the US. In Greece and France and Italy, people are out in the streets over cuts to the pension system. But not here. In the US, we have individualized failure and (thanks to our Boomers drinking the Kool Aid of the Reagan era ‘personal responsibility’ meme), everyone on your street who’s struggling thinks this is because of some personal defect. The one percenters have gotten us to internalize failure, and it worked with most of us. That’s why the message of the Occupy Movement is so frightening to the 1%. The Occupy Movement has made it clear that their economic woes are in large part because of the actions of the banks and the brokerage firms who crashed the economy. That is understood by the fiftysomethings and sixtysomethings in Europe, but it isn’t true here–the vast majority of OWS folks are millennials, caught between student debt and an economy that no longer produces jobs that can help pay off those debts. As I’ve said before, I always understood why the Millennials were down in Zuccotti. What never made sense was why their parents (who are also getting hammered) aren’t there with them.

It is long past time for the boomer generation to embrace the message that Occupy Wall Street has declared as its cause since its beginning. When you’re in your late fifties and dealing with the normal aging process along with any of the chronic diseases most fifty-somethings are having to address, it’s not a good time to find out that your work life will have to stretch another 20 years (ASSUMING YOU CAN FIND PAYING WORK AT ALL). That means the Boomers have to embrace the cause. That means hands off Social Security. That means Medicare eligibility should be lowered for those in the Boomer generation who’ve been given the heave-ho in the economic meltdown. That means companies of a few hundred or more have to start offering real pensions. The boomer generation didn’t break retirement–it was the corporate raiders and their paid servants in DC who did.

Not all of us will be able to work at physical labor jobs at age 77 as Tom Palome has done.

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