Musings

The Four Pillars of the New Retirement - Pillar 1: Health

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In a previous post, I mentioned an important new study called "The Four Pillars of the New Retirement," issued recently by Edward Jones in association with Age Wave and The Harris Poll. Since then, I have had the opportunity to attend a webinar that presented the report's highlights, and I've also gained access to the full report. This information is so significant to Boomers that I am devoting several posts to cover each of the four pillars: Health, Family, Purpose and Finances.

Before discussing Health, here's a brief overview: This was a major study comprised of a comprehensive examination of 100+ North American studies, articles and publications; in-depth interviews with subject matter experts and financial advisors; online forums and focus groups;  a survey of 9,000 adults across five generations (18+), including retirees and working-age individuals, in the U.S. and Canada fielded in May and June 2020; and exhaustive analysis by team members. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, the study was paused and modified to include specific information about the effect of the virus on retirement.

The term "new retirement" emerges from a first datapoint in the study: 55 percent of retirees define retirement as "a new chapter in life."

As for the impact of COVID-19, 29 percent of U.S. adults who plan to retire say the virus has made them consider retiring later, 10 percent say they will retire earlier, and 61 percent have not seen an impact on their plan to retire. One interesting observation about the virus: Its impact on people's ability to cope has been less severe as people age. Of the silent generation, 39 percent said they were coping "very well" and 56 percent said they were coping "somewhat well." Boomers had a similar response: 33 percent very well and 55 percent somewhat well. Younger generations, however, exhibit more stress: Gen X - 29 percent very well and 56 percent somewhat well, Millennials - 26 percent very well and 50 percent somewhat well, Gen Z - 21 percent very well and 55 percent somewhat well.

When asked if they have suffered a mental health decline since the COVID-19 pandemic, only 8 percent of the Silent Generation said yes. The percentages for other generations were: Boomer - 15 percent, Gen X - 25 percent, Millennial - 27 percent, Gen Z - 37 percent.

Pillar 1: Health

Pillar 1 presents a complex picture of aging statistics and the manner in which generations view health issues as they age. While 93 percent of retirees agree it's never too late to improve your health, only 55 percent say they maintain a healthy diet, and only 52 percent say they exercise regularly. Analysts call this an "intention/action gap." Of the Silent Generation, 34 percent rank their physical health as good to excellent, but 67 percent rank their mental health as good or excellent. For Boomers, the percentages are 34 percent and 62 percent respectively.

When the study data was analyzed by geographic area rather than age, 72 percent of those who live in a small town said their mental health was very good to excellent vs. 64 percent for suburb, 58 percent for rural area, and 58 percent for large city.

Retirees are concerned about brain health as they age. Almost a third (32 percent) said the condition they feared most in later life was Alzheimer's/dementia. Cancer was second (21 percent), followed by contagious disease such as COVID-19 and influenza (19 percent).

While the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.5, individuals are expected to spend ten years in poor health. Both lifespan and healthspan vary widely based on the state in which someone resides.

Next time: Pillar 2: Family.

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Is It Time to Become "Organized Radicals"?

Musings K-mitch-hodge-r3IE4JJLrFk-unsplashA recent article in The New York Times about the forgotten history of the Gray Panthers by author/professor Susan J. Douglas really resonated with me. Maybe you don't remember the Gray Panthers and their fiery founder, Maggie Kuhn, since they were active fifty years ago when Boomers were much younger. Their mission was to advocate on behalf of older Americans. Kuhn built the organization up to an impressive membership of 100,000 oldsters in more than 30 states by the late 1970s, writes Douglas. Kuhn was incensed at being forced to retire from her job at age 65, and equally disgusted by the "disengagement theory" popular at the time. This theory suggested "it was normal and natural for older people to simply withdraw from society."

Fast forward to 2020 and it might be easy to dismiss the Gray Panthers as just a bunch of angry radicals. After all, we have two septuagenarians running for President this year. But not so fast. While we could make a case that Americans over 65 are treated more equitably today, ageism remains a vexing problem in our society. Older workers are still very much discriminated against. The media is still very much biased against elders. Brand marketers and their agencies are still very much focused on youth, even though the real buying power is still in the hands of Boomers.

In her article, Douglas points to some of what Kuhn and the Gray Panthers fought against in the 70s: mandatory retirement ages, lack of accessibility in mass transportation, cuts in Social Security and Medicare, nursing home abuse, inequitable health care, negative stereotypes, racism and sexism. To Kuhn's credit, she embraced intergenerational alliances through the organization's motto, "Age and youth in action." She encouraged older and younger generations to work together instead of being at odds with one another. All of this sounds awfully familiar to me, so maybe things haven't changed so much.

Douglas writes that the demise of the Gray Panthers was caused, in part, because "there's been a shift away from activism on the part of older people and toward more institutionalized forms of political power." I would suggest another possibility: that after the 1960s and 1970s, Americans may have been feeling fatigued by activism in general.

Thankfully, we have seen a rebirth of activism, but today's activism is being channeled differently. It still focuses on racism, sexism and social injustice in general -- but not so much on ageism. While it is encouraging to see intergenerational forms of activism now, how many rallies are held in support of older Americans' rights? Despite our economic power, we seem to have taken a back seat when it comes to activism.

So is it time to follow the lead of the forgotten Gray Panthers? Do old people need to become "organized radicals," as Susan Douglas suggests? Or will our generation willingly "disengage" and become forgotten too? I welcome your thoughts.

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How Old is Too Old?

Musings Old-2742052_1920I recently attended an online talk co-sponsored by the American Federation for Aging Research and Prevention magazine. The speaker was Dr. Nir Barzilai. In addition to being a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Dr. Barzilai is that school's Chair of Aging Research and founding director of the Institute for Aging Research. He is also the author of the new book, Age Later: Health Span, Life Span, and the New Science of Longevity

Dr. Barzilai discussed, in layman's terms, his breakthrough research on aging. He primarily studies centenarians to assess the effects of aging and, more specifically, to better understand why those over 100 years of age live longer. The most compelling question Dr. Barzilai tries to answer is, "Can we prevent or delay aging?" He believes the answer is Yes. In his book Dr. Barzilai writes:

"Many centenarians pass the hundred-year mark almost effortlessly. Whereas most people are ill for an average of five to eight years prior to death, centenarians tend to maintain most of their abilities and are ill for only about five to eight months before their deaths. ... Many of them have some limitations... But the major diseases are delayed, and at the age of their retirement, many of them were not seeing a doctor and had no medical expenses."

Why do these folks live longer? Dr. Barzilai writes, "for most people, genetics are responsible for about 20 - 25 percent of aging and the environment is responsible for the rest. But the statistics are vastly different for centenarians, whose genes are about 75 - 80 percent responsible for how they age and the environment accounts for only about 20 percent." In other words, the older you get, genetics play a more important role; in fact, "strong data suggests that exceptional longevity runs in families..."

However, Dr. Barzilai pointed out during his talk that we can do things that will have a very positive environmental impact on aging, such as (not surprisingly) exercising and maintaining a sensible diet. One of the great benefits of exercise, for instance, is that is strengthens our immunity and helps prevent disease. It is also extremely helpful to stay vital and engaged. Dr. Barzilai shared a video of a 105-year old man who literally never retired -- he continued to gain satisfaction and stimulation from going to work every single day until his death a few years later.

Some day, medical science is likely to provide a big boost to longevity. In the mean time, we can look at centenarians as proof that no one is "too old" to live a healthy, productive life.

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When We Get There, the Future will be Ours

Musings Pair-2914879_1920It's easy for Boomers to be discouraged and pessimistic right now, but keep your eye on the future. It will be ours.

How can I be so sure? It's all about statistics:

  • The U.S. Census Bureau reported in June that those in the 65-plus age group in the U.S. grew by a hefty 34.2 percent over the past decade, and by 3.2 percent from 2018 to 2019.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau projected that by 2034, there will be 77 million people 65 years and older in the U.S. vs. 76.5 million people under the age of 18 -- marking the first time in history older people will outnumber children.
  • The World Population Prospects 2019 report published by the United Nations indicates that 1 in 11 people in the world were over age 65 in 2019, but 1 in 6 people in the world will be over age 65 by 2050. According to the report, "Virtually every country in the world is experiencing growth in the size and proportion of older persons in their population." Further, the report states, "Throughout most of the world, survival beyond age 65 is improving."
  • Wharton professor Mauro Guillen, author of the just published book, 2030: How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, told NextAvenue's Richard Eisenberg, "the number of people over sixty is growing everywhere in the world. By 2030, they will become the largest consumer market segment for the first time in history."

What this means is that we -- Boomers -- own the future.  But the reality of an aging population has not yet been acknowledged, as it should be, by any part of our society, whether it's state and federal governments, employers, industries that serve the country, or marketers of goods and services.

We can help shape what that future will look like by exerting the power of our demographic slice of the United States. We can advocate for ourselves and for Boomers in general. We can vote for politicians we believe will not put our old age in jeopardy. We can ask and, if necessary, demand that ageism be abolished once and for all.

Mauro Guillen talks about a bright future for Boomers: In his NextAvenue interview, he suggests that employers will be much more interested in hiring seniors for part-time jobs and that the gig economy will benefit Boomers. He believes intergenerational collaboration will become more common. He thinks technology will become increasingly important in helping an aging population deal with the challenges of growing older. My conclusion is that government and industry will have to serve an older population because an older population will be the majority.

There is power in numbers -- and in the not too distant future, the numbers will be in our favor. 

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Technology is Our Best Frenemy

Musings Samantha-borges-EeS69TTPQ18-unsplashOne notable side effect of the coronavirus pandemic for Boomers has been our increased use of technology as a direct result of the increase in isolation. I've witnessed this in my own life as well as hearing about similar experiences from family and friends. I consider myself someone who keeps up pretty well with technology, but in the past several months, I've used technology in new ways, including:

  • Organizing Zoom calls with family members who are scattered across the country
  • Taking an online class at my local OLLI college for seniors, also via Zoom
  • Attending music concerts online
  • Ordering groceries online through an app for home delivery
  • Making extensive use of self-checkout when I was ready to go into a grocery store
  • Ordering takeout food online from local restaurants
  • Using "Apple Pay" to avoid swiping a credit card
  • Having my first telehealth session with a physician
  • Joining in a Zoom discussion with other seniors from around the country about the pros and cons of telehealth.

On the positive side, if you have a decent Internet connection and a trustworthy digital device, remote interconnectivity can literally be a lifesaver. When you can't travel to visit your kids or grandkids in person, you can at least have a conversation, see them smile and hear them laugh. When you don't want to linger in grocery aisles, you can get someone else to do the shopping for you (at a higher price). When you fear attending meetings, taking classes, or even going to work, it's comforting to know there is a reasonable alternative. For example, I thought the senior class I took online was excellent, and I'm looking forward to taking courses again in the Fall.

On the other hand, technology isn't always intuitive, nor is it foolproof. The audiovisual quality can vary, technology glitches can occur and some experiences are less than satisfactory. I learned, for instance, that it takes a lot longer to add things to a digital grocery cart than I realized -- and if the shopper assigned to your order can't find an item you want, you have to be available to quickly pick an alternative. Now that's pressure! I also found out that telehealth wasn't all I had hoped it would be: My doctor's appointment was delayed for 45 minutes because previous patients were having problems connecting with or using the telehealth platform. While it was great not having to drive to the doctor's office and be exposed to others in the waiting room, I still had to wait!

This pandemic has made me realize how lucky we are to have technology that can help us do things without the risk of physical, personal contact -- and how unlucky we are that we must sacrifice the physical, personal contact to which we had become accustomed. I guess that's why I consider technology a Boomer's best "frenemy." 

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Attitude Begets Endurance

BooksThese are tough times for everyone, and retired Boomers are no exception. Many of us wonder when we'll be able to truly emerge from forced hibernation without risking our health and well-being. When will we be able to travel again... to go to a movie theatre or a concert... to hug our grandchildren?

One thing is for certain: When it comes to maintaining our resilience, attitude is everything. A positive attitude makes a huge difference -- not a Pollyanna-ish attitude that is naively cheery, but a positive attitude grounded in pragmatism and the belief that we will endure. We used to call it "keeping your head on straight."

Heidi Herman expresses it in a different but equally positive way: "On with the Butter!" It's an old Icelandic expression she learned from her mom that essentially means "forge ahead" or "carry on." It's also the title of Heidi's new book, which was inspired by her mother's unfailingly positive attitude about life -- she kept tirelessly adventuring until her passing last year at age 94.

Intended for Boomers and retirees, On With The Butter: Spread More Living onto Everyday Life is a happy, lively book written by someone who realizes that life "is far too long to be squandered on unhappiness or boredom." That's why, when Heidi retired, "instead of buying a rocking chair, I learned to fly." Heidi means that literally... she did learn to fly!

In the book are fifteen chapters with such uplifting titles as "Just Say Yes," "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Take the Scenic Route." Each chapter conveys Heidi's can-do attitude about life and often shares anecdotes about or wisdom from her mother. At the close of a chapter, Heidi includes a section called "The Challenge," which encourages the reader to embrace a particular area of living. Every chapter also offers a checklist chock full of easy-to-follow ideas to take action and break out of the sameness mold. The ideas range from little to big, obvious to not-so-obvious, but they are always positive and inspiring.

This is a time when all of us need to "spread more living onto everyday life," as Heidi enthusiastically suggests in her book. A positive attitude and a disposition oriented toward succeeding is what we really need to endure.


COVID-19 and Generational Resilience

Picture-416614_1920For this blog post, I am taking the unusual step of providing information directly from Age Wave (mentioned in my previous post) about a just-released retirement study that is important for Boomers to know about. This report is based on a large-scale investigation of what it means to live well in retirement that began in November 2019. The study was conducted by Edward Jones in partnership with Age Wave and The Harris Poll. 

August 4, 2020 - Despite COVID-19’s severe and disproportionate impact on the health of aging adults, older Americans reported they are coping far better than younger ones, according to the Edward Jones and Age Wave study released today, “The Four Pillars of the New Retirement.” The 9,000-person, five-generation study in the U.S. and Canada revealed that in the U.S. 37% of Gen Z and 27% of millennials said they have suffered mental health declines since the pandemic began, while only 15% of baby boomers and 8% of silent generation respondents said the same. 

"COVID-19’s impact forever changed the reality of many Americans, yet we’ve observed a resilience among U.S. retirees in contrast to younger generations,” said Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., psychologist/gerontologist and founder and CEO of Age Wave. “Older Americans tend to recognize the value of a long-term view, and so as they think about their lives, longevity and legacy, they’re able to pull from an array of experiences that help them weather current storms, feel gratitude about many aspects of their lives and still plan for the future.” 

The landmark Edward Jones and Age Wave research uncovered a new definition for retirement, as far more than simply the end of work. The majority of U.S. retirees (55%) defined retirement as a whole new chapter filled with new choices, freedoms and challenges, and they do so in a more holistic way across four important areas of health, family, purpose and finance.

COVID-19's Impact on Family Closeness and Finances
COVID-19’s initial dramatic impact on the U.S. economy and personal financial situations may very well leave long-lasting implications. Reflecting a great deal of generational generosity, 24 million Americans* have provided financial support to adult children due to COVID-19, and an overwhelming 71% of retirees said they would offer financial support to their family even if it could jeopardize their own financial future. Despite COVID-19’s negative impact on finances, 67% of Americans said the pandemic has brought their families closer together. The research also revealed that 20 million Americans stopped making retirement savings contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic and only a quarter of working Americans were on track with their retirement savings prior to the pandemic. 

“We've certainly seen COVID-19's disruptive force on finances, with the pandemic influencing retirement timing and financial confidence,” said Ken Cella, Edward Jones Client Services Group Principal. “However, this cloud has brought several silver linings in terms of family closeness and important discussions about planning earlier for retirement, saving more for emergencies and even talking through end-of-life plans and long-term care costs.”

Social Relationships as Predictor of Health and Purpose
While loneliness is pervasive across all five generations, as people age, physical isolation becomes a greater health risk, as deadly as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day , and it is linked to increased risk for heart disease and dementia.  While most retirees (76%) said they derive the greatest sense of purpose from social relationships, specifically time spent with loved ones, 72% noted that one of their biggest fears is becoming a burden on their families. 

"Retirees say they miss people and purpose, not paychecks, when they retire, but 31% of new retirees are struggling to find purpose in this stage of life. They want to feel useful, not just youthful, and keep learning and growing at every age," Dychtwald added. 

The study found that 89% of all Americans feel that there should be more ways for retirees to use their talents and knowledge for the benefit of their communities and society at large. 

Financial Advisors as Connectors and Confidence Builders
As Americans redefine retirement in a broader way across the four pillars, the majority of U.S. respondents felt their ideal financial advisor is a guide who can understand them and help them achieve their goals. In fact, 84% of those working with a financial advisor said that their financial advisor relationship gave them a greater sense of comfort regarding their finances during the pandemic.

Further underscoring the fundamental importance of financial security, retirees are often met by new challenges as they enter retirement. Thirty-six percent of retirees said managing money in retirement is more confusing than saving for retirement, and they want help navigating. Fifty-two percent of retirees cited healthcare costs, including long-term care, as the most common financial worry. This concern was also echoed by pre-retirees as more than two-thirds (68%) of those who plan to retire in the next 10 years said they have no idea what their healthcare and long-term care costs will be in retirement.

“Beyond finances, we can help our clients envision and truly realize a holistic retirement, which, we know includes decisions about their health, family and purpose,” said Cella. “Empathy and knowledge allow us to better serve to our clients in a human-centered way and work together to achieve what’s most important to them and their families.”

While the above findings feature a selection of respondents’ thoughts regarding the new definition of retirement, further examination of the four pillars of health, family, purpose and finances reveal their highly intertwined nature and influence in shaping retirees’ overall quality of life. For more details from The Four Pillars of the New Retirement, please visit www.EdwardJones.com/NewRetirement.

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Embracing the "Third Age"

Musings Smartphone-1790833_1920If you're not familiar with Dr. Ken Dychtwald and his organization, Age Wave, you should be. Founded in 1986, Age Wave has become the pre-eminent consulting firm on our aging population. Dychtwald has just released a new book with co-author Bob Morison called What Retirees Want: A Holistic View of Life's Third Age. Dychtwald is contributing his earnings from the book to the American Society on Aging.

In a recent article for Forbes magazine, Dychtwald and Morison discuss the "Third Age," which begins somewhere after we turn 60 years old. They see the Third Age as an exciting and vibrant time of life, very much unlike what "retirement" used to mean. Instead, they write, "The third age is now full of potential for individuals, families, and society. The scope of this potential is enormous and unprecedented. And from this perspective, modern elders are seen not as social outcasts, but as a living bridge between yesterday, today, and tomorrow – a critical evolutionary role that no other age group can perform."

Still, Dychtwald and Morison pose an important question: "Will the Boomers use their experience and assets to help shape a future based on mindfulness and generosity of spirit? Or will they act only to promote their own interests #OKBoomer-style?" Psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, told Dychtwald and Morison, “The legacy to the Boomer generation won’t be the ‘me first’ image of their early years, but rather the potential huge surge in volunteerism that might characterize their later years. It’s not how you begin the act, it’s how you leave the stage that people remember.”

I think Dychtwald, Morison and Goleman have hit upon one of the key challenges of the aging process. Are we in it for ourselves or for something bigger and, presumably, better?

Most of the Boomers I know seem to be on the right track. They're interested, engaged and fully embrace the Third Age.

Personally, I've embraced the Third Age by calling it "rewiring" instead of "retiring." As I've written in previous posts, I chose to leave my primary professional career and rewire, not retire, to live what I like to think of as a multi-faceted life that includes some work, some play and some giving back.

During this tough time of COVID-19, it isn't always easy to maintain a positive attitude -- but you can be a survivor. How? If you have the kind of variety in your "rewired" life that frees your mind, heart and soul... and your underlying outlook is generally optimistic. More importantly, you'll leave a legacy of which you can be proud.

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Is It Possible to be Happy Right Now?

Musings Kawin-harasai-2Ev2aUB8NJI-unsplashBoomers who have self-isolated over the past several months may have been just about ready to loosen up a little bit and start venturing out. Then the surge in COVID-19 cases hit many states. This is both troubling and discouraging. Add that to what seems to be national tumult and finding a way to be positive is a challenge, to say the least. In fact, some Boomers may be wondering if it is even possible to be happy right now.

While there is no magic formula for happiness, the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, recently published an article that might be helpful. The article discusses important new research that points to resilience as a key differentiator among people who are happy vs. those who are not. According to the article, "research has found that resilient people—people who handle life’s challenges especially well, and who quickly bounce back from setbacks—are better able to hold on to the good, even in the presence of the bad."

Thankfully, resilience is a trait that can be cultivated, according to researchers. Research data from the study indicated that there are a number of things that resilient people do to find happiness right now:

  1. They set aside time to take care of body, mind and spirit.
  2. They help others.
  3. They use social media properly.
  4. They find ways to occasionally meet face to face while observing social distancing.

Read the full article for details about each of these four elements.

All of us have endured pain and made sacrifices, some more than others, during this pandemic. Some Boomers have taken ill, some have lost jobs and some may even be facing eviction from their homes. One thing I really believe about our generation, though: It is our perspective on life -- knowing we have survived life's challenges before -- that contributes to our own resilience.

As this hopeful article reminds us, "...when faced with challenges, resilient people don’t avoid negative states, thinking everything is fine. Rather, even while feeling stress, anxiety, loneliness, and depression, the resilient among us continue feeling love, gratitude, joy, and hope. Accepting (not suppressing) negative emotion is part of what it means to be resilient."

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The Double Whammy: COVID-19 and Ageism

Musings Vincent-van-zalinge-4Mu2bXIsn5Y-unsplashRight now, COVID-19 shows no signs of abating. This has many implications for the country and the world, but it is especially unsettling for Boomers. We are vulnerable in two ways: First, we're more prone to get seriously ill or die from the virus. Second, we take the brunt of society's implicit blame.

This is a double whammy. Those of us who work in a traditional office setting may well be concerned if not terrified to return to our job. Perhaps we have been fortunate enough to have an employer who encouraged us to telecommute, but that can only last so long. Your employer, like most others, is probably hurting financially because of the shutdown of the economy. Who do you think will be the most likely employees to be laid off first? That's right, Boomers. Which age group will most likely have the toughest time finding another job? Right again, Boomers -- because in our society, discrimination on the basis of age runs rampant.

A recent article in The New York Times confirms the seriousness of the situation. Tricia Neuman, Medicare policy program director at Kaiser tells writer Mark Miller, "It's double jeopardy for older workers as businesses open up. If they return to work, they risk getting seriously ill due to Covid, but if they stay home, they may forfeit their earnings." As for retaining a job, Laurie McCann, an AARP foundation senior attorney, adds, "Older workers already faced much longer periods of unemployment than younger workers before the pandemic. I think that will be on steroids this time -- employers will be more reticent to hire older workers who may be more vulnerable to illness."

It goes without saying that state and federal laws are weak at best when it comes to protecting Boomers. The federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act is intended to protect workers who are 40 and older from being discriminated against by employers with 20 or more workers. Unfortunately, it is a difficult law to enforce, because the burden is on the employee to prove definitively that age discrimination was the reason for a layoff, not being reinstated at a job, or not being hired for a new position.

Health insurance is a big problem for Boomer workers as well. If you're under 65 and lose your full-time job, you will also lose the all-important benefit of health insurance provided by your employer. Your next job is likely to be part-time or temporary, so it won't offer health insurance as a benefit. To put it bluntly, you're screwed until you turn 65 and can apply for Medicare.

On the financial side, retirement savings are taking a hit, as they did in the 2008-2009 recession. If you need income from work and you can't get work, you may have to dip into savings and/or draw Social Security earlier than you thought. This is one reason it is so important to work with a financial adviser.

Hopefully, you've put enough away for "a rainy day," because it sure is pouring at the moment.  You'll need to keep that financial umbrella open over your head a while longer.

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