Jeff Hammer: Reconsidering Full Time Retirement

Being a member of the American Association of Retired People (AARP) does have its benefits. Well over a decade ago when I turned fifty, and even before then, I began receiving mail encouraging me to join the organization. My mother had been a member for many years, and although she joined for multiple reasons, one of which was political, my reason for becoming a member was a little more self serving.

I wanted the discounts that came with AARP membership, particularly discounts on motel rooms and restaurant meals. When I first joined, and for about the following eleven years, my wife and I took advantage of the discounts and truthfully, they paid for the membership. 

Every so often, I would receive a magazine in the mail. Most of the time it would go directly from the mailbox to the wicker basket which we use to store our magazines. Every couple of months my wife or I would go through all the magazines and toss into the recycling box all the publications we had read and all those that were over six months old. Most often, the AARP magazine would suffer that fate without being read…at all.

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I just wasn’t interested because I had not yet retired and most of the articles contained in the magazine didn’t pertain to me and the life I was living then. Also, there was my teaching position and all the time responsibilities that came with it. I just didn’t want to take the time to read it because there was always something else that needed done, either professionally or at home.

When I retired all that changed, and as I grudgingly accepted the fact that I was slowly approaching geezerhood, I finally had the time to delve more deeply into the magazine. The truth is that a lot of information for older Americans found there is valuable. Every topic that might be of interest to citizens my age and older is extensively explored, from fraud to changes in Medicare and Social Security to how to finance retirement and more.

I’ve visited with high school classmates occasionally, and a good portion of them still seem to think that living forever is a possibility. When I broach a topic that is even slightly age related, I often receive a reply similar to, “I don’t think about that because I’m not old.”

And I agree that age is just a number, and there is some truth to the adage that one is as old as one feels; but to use that as an excuse to not plan for the future is merely denying the inevitable. As a result, I feel that any truthful information accumulated from any proven and reliable source is beneficial if it is relevant to one’s own situation.

Not only is there a magazine that comes with AARP membership, but each month a publication in newspaper form, called ARRP Bulletin, arrives in my mailbox. In this publication, articles are shorter and less detailed. Found inside the Bulletin, in addition to timely and informative features, are interviews with older celebrities, athletes, and political figures. For example, in the June 2022 issue, 82 year-old former professional golfer Lee Trevino responded to a multitude of questions concerning his poor upbringing and being one of the few players of color on the PGA Tour starting in the late 1960’s. Very interesting reading, even if you have never been a golf fan.

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Also in the same issue, an article could be found that was very timely for me personally. Titled “Why to Keep Working After Retirement,” the article arrived nearly simultaneously as my wife and I were discussing going back to work part time. My usual practice upon receiving a new magazine is to skim through it and read the headlines and kind of mentally prioritize the articles in order of when I will read them, so when I read the aforementioned headline, I knew that article would be one of the first to be examined.

According to the article, of the eight reasons given for retired Americans to return to the workforce part time, only one had to do with money; which is surprising to me because as a nation (according to Forbes Magazine), 76% of Americans believe they won’t achieve a secure retirement at the rate they are presently saving for their “golden years.” Those respondents were evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, so despite being deeply divided on a political level, three out of four of us agree that we are not making enough money presently to adequately save for our retirement. Indeed, if nothing changes for our present middle class workers, forty percent of them will be poor or near poor as elder Americans. 

I can’t be the only one who thinks that’s a problem, and not just for them personally. It is a problem for all Americans. As more Baby Boomers retire, we will require medical services for which we, as Americans, are not prepared to pay. To be specific, in 2023, Medicare Part A, which covers hospital insurance and is financed by payroll taxes, is expected to begin running deficits; and if the federal government does nothing to correct the situation the Hospital Insurance trust fund will run out of money in 2029.

That doesn’t even address the cost of long term care when many of us can no longer care for ourselves. None of us want to admit that our health may deteriorate to the point where we need assistance with our daily lives, but nursing homes exist for a reason, and they always seem to be full. According to AARP the average monthly cost for a private nursing home room is around $8,800 and for a one bedroom assisted living scenario, the cost is about half that. 

What are the options for someone who cannot meet those financial responsibilities? I don’t know, but I can guess that Generation X and Millennials will be paying the bill. Now that’s a frightening thought!

All of the forgoing information is something that I’ve thought about…a little. Probably not as much as I should.  When I retired, I had no interest in going back into the classroom and really no interest in reentering the workforce at all. I’ve been writing these columns since before I retired and I really don’t consider them work.  Based on the amount of money I have earned collectively for writing them at least two times a month for the past 51 months, neither should anyone else, including the Internal Revenue Service, but I will continue to claim that remuneration on my taxes for as long as I feel like writing.

But lately, like one out of every three Americans who retire, I’ve been considering going back to work part time. Money is a big motivator, especially now that inflation seems to be out of control and the stock market is trending downward, but money is only part of that motivation. As mentioned in the article, those of us who are considering answering to a new boss are looking for more than a paycheck. I still have no interest in going back to the classroom, even as a substitute, but I want to have a reason to leave the house a few days a week for a few hours, a sense of purpose, if you will, which is the number five reason we retirees go back to work. 

Just the other evening, I completed an application with Fremont County School District Number One to be considered for a substitute custodian position. When I was a teacher and had a few minutes at lunch or before or after school, engaging one of the custodians in a little conversation always provided a few laughs for the both of us and usually words of wisdom from the custodian. They know how to keep their own counsel until prompted, but they see everything. It was time well spent.

Make no mistake, I’m no comedian nor do I have any timely advice for anyone. I just want to do something useful, where the results of my labor are immediate and tangible…and I can make a few bucks. Only time will tell when and how often I join the ranks of those men and women who are tasked with the responsibility to clean and maintain our school building, but assuming that role from time to time is something I am looking forward to.

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