It’s harder to get the gold in ‘golden years’

Tuesday, May 15, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:57 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Rose M. Nolen

I can remember the days when folks reached middle age and eagerly looked forward to the time when they could retire. That was when people spent decades on the same job, had a nice pension to rely on and thoughts of the coming years of rest and relaxation seemed ideal. That’s an option that is no longer readily available to a quite a number of members of the working class.

Many employees today have changed jobs every few years as companies closed down or moved overseas, jobs were downsized or they seized an opportunity to make more money someplace else. Pensions have virtually disappeared or been replaced by 401K plans.

As the cost of living escalated, wages have remained stagnant. So for many, retirement no longer seems like a handsome prospect.

Unfortunately, at this time in the country’s history there is an economy for the rich and an economy for the poor. The economy of the rich is healthy and robust. Unlike the Great Depression which affected people in all walks of life, the economy of the poor, includes only the middle-class and is bringing its income downward to the level of the poor.

It’s no longer unusual for people to work two or more jobs just to maintain what they already have. But, it’s the economy of the rich that the media keeps before the public’s face and, as is always the case, it will take an event of major significance to shift the public’s attention. And if this isn’t bad enough, within this scenario another sequence unfolds. As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the political powers continue to push for amnesty for illegal immigrants and a guest worker program. This adds yet another level of poverty to the mix.

When companies pay workers less than a livable wage, this creates an underclass of people and a situation where it requires more than two people so support a household. When these people are supporting poor families back home, several families often share the same household in order to meet expenses. As the population grows, neighborhoods expand and before long entire sections of communities will be in a state of deterioration, and America’s poor will be living in the same conditions that the illegal immigrants left behind them.

We Americans have an almost uncanny ability to believe that the situation will right itself. When all this will happen we don’t know, but in the meantime, the middle class and the working poor continue to lose ground.

I suspect that because our living standards in the U.S. are so much higher than those in Third World countries, we don’t take poverty in this country seriously. We seem to take for granted that unless people are destitute and have nothing to eat, they are not considered poor. According to the Census Bureau, there were almost 35 million poor people living here in 2002. Some of them own homes, automobiles and modern appliances but have incomes below the poverty line. And while in some countries these people might be considered wealthy, the cost of living in America is such that they can barely keep a roof over their heads.

There are those among the affluent who still believe that if the poor would simply go to work their lives would improve. They don’t seem to understand that poor people are made up of millions of people, many of whom work at minimum wage jobs that don’t pay enough to keep up the mortgage and pay the utilities and other bills.

Unless things change drastically, as the population ages, people will have to stay in the workforce longer and longer. They can only hope that their declining years will find them healthy and well enough to continue earning a living.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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