Beyond the horizon: Retirement for Hawaii residents is often barely there

Beth-Ann Kozlovich

with Beth-Ann Kozlovich

HONOLULU—It’s a familiar refrain: The economy took its toll on your (or your parents’) savings and now and the plan is to work several years longer. Maybe forever. The good news is that those attitudes aren’t solely yours or your parents.

A recent AARP Hawaii survey of employed adults age 50 and up shows two thirds of them say they’ll work much longer if the economy doesn’t improve. And nearly half of those surveyed say they expect to delay retirement by five years—or perhaps they just won’t retire at all. The not-so-good news is that the generations under the Boomers, those under 45, may face the Boomers as barriers to your upward movement.

In whichever camp you fall, the best news of all is that working longer can keep life juicy, allow older adults to stay healthy and engaged, and provide the opportunity for several generations to unhook from rampant consumerism, redefine what really matters, and act accordingly.

Over the years Town Square has been on the air, we’ve frequently looked at our collective relationship to money. We’ve heard from economists, financial planners, psychologists, from some listeners who chafe at being unable to buy all the beautiful goodies they want, and from those renegades constantly figuring out how to thumb their noses at the marketers of all those goods. Given the current AARP Hawaii study, we all will have to respond to the money factor in perhaps some profoundly different ways than we had planned or been told to plan.

In the weeks since its release, the AARP Hawaii study has not been a surprise to many who have seen it. However, AARP Hawaii head Barbara Kim Stanton says many people tell her they feel personally overwhelmed at some of the data, particularly about long term care.

The cost of long term care in Hawaii could be as much $130,000 annually and will only escalate.

Stanton says the cost of long term care in Hawaii could be as much $130,000 annually and will only escalate. Add that to the fact that longevity in Hawaii is among the highest in the nation—about 80 years on average with an additional five years tacked on for women—and the chances of retiring at a traditional age looks slim, even for those who believe they have planned well.

“In 20 years, you’ll probably need 70 percent more than what you have right now,” says Stanton, “and this is based on the consumer price index over the last 20 years. The purchasing power of what you bought 20 years ago has increased by 70 percent. That’s why we say do not plan as other financial planners may tell you to have 70 percent (of you current needs). You’re going to need a lot more. This is a reality check.”

Stanton also agrees maintaining medical insurance is a good enough reason to keep working past age 65. Even if when you qualify, Medicare will still leave you with holes and gaps to fill, which may be covered if you are still working and covered under an employer’s group policy.

Jay Bloom believes working longer shouldn’t be a hardship, at least physically, for many older adults. Most, he says, are healthier and more engaged than were their counterparts in past generations. Bloom is an executive and personal coach to community leaders, managers, and individuals in the private, philanthropic, and government sectors who are experiencing a transition in their lives and who want to strengthen their professional skills and grow their capabilities. Now he’s experiencing his own transition. Bloom will relocate this week to Oregon to become the interim president and CEO of the United Way of Columbia-Willamette.

As a poster Boomer for his generation, Bloom says working longer has another highlight: The community at large will need older workers, but there are policy challenges to overcome now.

“We have a lag in some employment policies in terms of how to keep older adults working who want to continue to work or who need to work,” Bloom says. Specifically, he notes the work policies of certain state jobs that don’t allow for part-time employment.

From the retiree’s perspective, Bloom says his experience with his clients shows that the dreams of retirement also don’t quite sync with the reality. He hopes that younger generations will pay attention.

“The top three reasons I hear about what people want to do, they think, when they retire are,” Bloom says, “they want to travel; they want to spend time with kids or grandkids; and/or they want to recreate. What they end up finding out sooner or later is that when you travel you have to come home, your kids or grandkids only want so much of your time and recreating only works when it’s a part of a larger lifestyle. You can’t be satisfied with just gardening.”

Pediatric nurse Leona Pereza tried early retirement. When the combination of boredom, a diminished nest egg and a lot of unused energy forced Pereza to reevaluate her situation, she went back to school to get another degree. Now a pediatric social worker, she plans on her new career lasting at least another 10 years.

“I’m taking care of a lot of things—providing medical insurance and extra income,” Pereza says. “When the market fell in 2008, we took a big hit, so working now is helping to replace the loss we experienced. At the same time, I feel that mentally, physically and emotionally, I’m going to stay engaged for a long time.”

All are the prime reasons for staying in the workforce as long as you can, even if that means starting a new business. Bloom corroborates that ageism is alive and well but over time can be significantly diminished the more older workers assert themselves. And the rest of us can become more accustomed to seeing and accepting older workers as the norm in the workplace. 

And especially for younger workers: If you’re at least 15 years away from the traditional retirement age, jettison traditional retirement dreams, save much more than you think you’ll need or have been told to save, and welcome opportunities to reinvent yourself as you move through your life. Learn and act on those lessons right now and you may have an even better life over 65 than anyone else might imagine for you.

The complete interview with Barbara Kim Stanton, Jay Bloom, and Leona Pereza is on the Town Square archive at Reach Beth-Ann Kozlovich at [email protected]