For some low-in­come work­ers, re­tire­ment is only a dream

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Maria Ines Za­mu­dio

CHICAGO >> It was a strik­ing im­age. A photo of an 89-year-old man hunched over, strug­gling to push his cart with frozen treats. Fi­den­cio Sanchez works long hours ev­ery day sell­ing the treats be­cause he couldn’t af­ford to re­tire. The photo and his story went vi­ral and thou­sands of peo­ple do­nated more than $384,000 for his re­tire­ment.

His story is a win­dow into a dark re­al­ity: Many low-wage work­ers say they can’t af­ford to re­tire.

With no money saved for re­tire­ment, home care worker Gwen Strow­bridge, 71, of Deer­field, Florida, plans to stay on the job un­til she can’t phys­i­cally work any­more.

“I can’t see it in the fu­ture. I’ll stop work­ing if my health won’t al­low me to keep work­ing,” said Strow­bridge. Now 71, she works six days per week car­ing for a 100-year-old woman in Florida.

Stud­ies have found that about one-third of low wage work­ers like Straw­bridge say they’ll never be able to af­ford re­tire­ment. The prob­lem is par­tic­u­larly acute among mi­nor­ity women.

A 2016 study by The As­so­ci­ated Press-NORC Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search found that one-quar­ter of work­ers 50 and older say they won’t re­tire. Among low wage work­ers, earn­ing less than $50,000 a year, it was 33 per­cent.

Strow­bridge’s first job, in the 1960s, paid 98 cents an hour, set­ting her out on a path of lowwage jobs that stretched across five decades. She raised three sons with her hus­band, Roy, a dock at­ten­dant who un­loaded cargo from boats. The cou­ple was forced to use the lit­tle money they had saved for re­tire­ment on fam­ily med­i­cal is­sues.

Strow­bridge stopped work­ing briefly af­ter she turned 63 to care for her hus­band, who had quadru­ple by­pass heart surgery. Their So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits weren’t enough to cover med­i­cal ex­penses, rent, util­i­ties and food. When he died, she went back to work.

Jac­que­lyn B. James, co-di­rec­tor of Bos­ton Col­lege’s Cen­ter on Ag­ing and Work, said it is com­mon for low-wage work­ers to stay on the job, with no plans for re­tire­ment.

“It is re­ally easy for them to say ‘I’m go­ing to work for­ever’ but things hap­pen,” said James. Among those things: health is-

sues.

A 2016 re­port by the non­par­ti­san re­search non­profit Na­tional In­sti­tute on Re­tire­ment Se­cu­rity shows that many black, Latina and Asian women have to work past re­tire­ment age to be able to af­ford ba­sic ex­penses. Women were 80 per­cent more likely than men to be im­pov­er­ished.

The re­search showed that for men be­tween 70 and 74, about 19 per­cent of their in­come comes from wages. For women, it’s about 15 per­cent.

“You couldn’t put noth­ing in the bank be­cause I was al­ways un­der­paid,” Strow­bridge said. “I just didn’t make enough to save.”

Jan­uario Sal­gado’s fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion mir­rors Strow­bridge’s. He never saved for re­tire­ment. He is 64 years old and doesn’t plan to re­tire. He works 10 hours, six days per week in a gro­cery store in a sub­urb out­side Chicago.

“I couldn’t save,” Sal­gado said in Span­ish. “I worked a lot to help my fam­ily. I used to send money to my par­ents in Mex­ico.”

While car­ing for el­derly par­ents is a norm in Mex­i­can cul­ture, many of the chil­dren don’t think it’s their re­spon­si­bil­ity, said Sal­gado, who came to the United States 40 years ago. His sons are among them.

Sal­gado plans to start col­lect­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits when he turns 65 but he will con­tinue to work as long as he is phys­i­cally able. He doesn’t want to be­come a bur­den to his chil­dren.

For Es­ther Bolanos, 64, the sit­u­a­tion is even more dif­fi­cult. A do­mes­tic worker, she has been able to save some money for re­tire­ment but said it is not enough. She won’t be able to re­ceive So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits be­cause she doesn’t have le­gal sta­tus.

“It’s sad to think about my sit­u­a­tion. I was forced to close my busi­ness and leave the eco­nomic sta­bil­ity I had in my coun­try to come here,” Bolanos said in Span­ish. “I left ev­ery­thing be­hind be­cause of the vi­o­lence.”

Bolanos owned a suc­cess­ful cheese fac­tory in Mex­ico City, but suc­cess made her a tar­get, she said. Her hus­band was killed and she was robbed at gun­point twice. Af­ter the last rob­bery, she de­cided to mi­grate north.

“I told my daugh­ter, I’m go­ing to take you to a safe place” even if I have to work clean­ing houses, she said. If Bolanos had stayed in Mex­ico City, she would be re­tired. But now that she’s in the U.S., she doesn’t think she ever will.

“I don’t think about re­tire­ment,” she said. “I think about what would hap­pen to me if I get sick.”

“You couldn’t put noth­ing in the bank be­cause I was al­ways un­der­paid. I just didn’t make enough to save.” — home care worker Gwen Strow­bridge, 71, of Deer­field, Florida

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Gwen Strow­bridge, 71, poses for a pho­to­graph wear­ing her work uni­form at her home in Deer­field Beach, Fla. Strow­bridge works six days a week car­ing for a 100-year-old woman. She has worked all her life and plans to work un­til she can’t phys­i­cally work any­more.

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