February 1, 1998 in Nation/World

Necessity Forces Retirees Back To Work

Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Revie
 

Although Paula Clark’s husband is retired from a career in the U.S. Coast Guard, the couple still works full time.

If they both didn’t work, she says, “We couldn’t make it in today’s economy.”

Ken Isaak’s situation is similar. “When I retired from the military I took a 60 percent cut in pay,” he says. “I recently sent two daughters through college, and I have one son to go. I need to work.”

At last, after a quarter century of service to his country, Michael W. Murphy is a civilian. “But there’s no way that my government pension will see me through,” says the Air Force veteran. “My wife and I both work full time, with the goal of some day being able to retire!”

These Spokane residents are but a few of the many who called, wrote, faxed, e-mailed and otherwise responded to an earlier column in which another reader voiced the view that retirees are wreaking havoc in the local labor market.

This particular party, a retired electrician, in turn had objected to a previous column about a program that encourages employment of retirees, who, as he sees it, take jobs away from younger workers and negatively impact wages and benefits. He was most critical of military retirees returning to government jobs.

“Retired military,” he charged, “have screwed up the job market in Spokane.”

Whether there are those who agreed with him, I don’t know. But military retirees responded in force.

Shirley Ham of Spokane, widow of a military veteran with a retirement pension of $200 a month, observes that generally she feels no great need to “let off steam” in the newspaper. But in this case she was compelled to correct the misimpression that many military retirees view their job as a “hobby” or just something to occupy time.

“If you can find one (such person) able to give up this pastime and support a family solely on their military retirement pay in today’s economy, let’s campaign to send that person to Washington, D.C.,” she urged. “Just imagine how well someone with all that talent could manage the nation’s problems with the budget, national debt and other sundry financial concerns!”

Unfortunately, says Richard Mellor of Spokane, “Military retirement pay isn’t really very much.

“When I got out after 20 years,” he said, “my total retirement check was $400.66 a month - before taxes. I was 38 years old. I felt like 50. I had a wife and three children to support.

“I couldn’t do it on that pay.”

Recent military retiree Ken Isaak said, “I can guarantee … that I neither consider work a hobby nor am I just looking for something to do. My retirement provides income for which I am very grateful, especially since I am presently unemployed.”

Even so, he said, “I still consider myself lucky, because I have retired military acquaintances who are working at or near minimum wage just to make ends meet.”

A critical problem for retirees is erosion of buying power and benefits over time, until the security that a career seemed to hold becomes little more than an empty promise, says Paula Clark.

Clark, who is assistant manager of a variety store, also disputes the claim that retirees take jobs away from young people. Instead, she says, retirees with whom she works accept jobs that “a young person will not or cannot take and still make a living.

“We have several retirees who work only five or six hours a week,” she says.

“It is true that they sometimes take these short-houred jobs to have something to do,” she admits. But she issues this challenge, “You show me the young person who could afford to work these short hours. They (younger workers) want and need a career, or at least a job with enough hours and income to make a living.

“Without these short-houred retirees working for us, we would be short-handed all of the time,” says the store manager, “and service to our customers would be decidedly lacking.”

As far as Clark is concerned, “Working retirees are a vital part of our labor force. I, for one, am very proud to work with them. They bring experience and knowledge that are irreplaceable.”

, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review

Associate Editor Frank Bartel writes on retirement issues each Sunday. He can be reached with ideas for future columns at 459-5467 or fax 459-5482.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Frank Bartel The Spokesman-Review


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