Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Retirees speak on retirement threat

Retirees and great friends

“The majority of the state retirees I know are just making ends meet,” said 79-year-old retired university custodian Vicky Martinez. With groceries and rent it is hard for a lot of employees to get by on a state pension.

Martinez’s husband died shortly after she retired and her retirement benefits are her major source of income. She has two daughters and a great grandson living with her and that helps make ends meet. She retired from San Jose State University after 17 years of service.

Beverly Whaller-Wharton is 72-years-old. She has been retired from university service for 10 years. She worked for SJSU for 36 years. Martinez and Whaller-Wharton are great friends. They said, “we are proud to say our ages and to be so active.”

Whaller-Wharton is afraid that if the proposal to cut CalPers retirement benefits gets on the ballot that people are going to vote for it. She said a lot of voters are likely to say, “I don’t have that, why should state employees?” She believes this is a serious issue for all state employees. In her opinion the plan to privatize state pension plans into a 401K-like plan is dangerous. She said, “Private plans can run out. A pension lasts as long as you live.” Her husband is 91 and has been retired since 1980. “Because he is a retired state worker he still collects his pension,” she said.

“People don’t realize that though they are young today they will be older tomorrow,” Martinez said. Even though some long-term state employees and even retirees make think this proposal is not a threat to them, Whaller-Wharton said, “retirees need to be concerned. As the cost of living goes up there will be no money in the fund to pay cost-of-living adjustments without the newer employees contributing to the fund.”

“The state did not complain during the boom years when the fund was self-supporting,” Martinez said. During that period the state did not make any contributions to the fund. “For many years state employees were not allowed to pay into social security, and this is the only retirement they have,” Whaller-Wharton said. According to Whaller-Wharton the average state pension is $1,673 a month, far less than a lot of the public thinks it is. “For some employees, Social Security benefits are helpful. But, if the Federal government is able to weaken Social Security this will be a double whammy for retirees,” said Whaller-Wharton.

It is not uncommon for retirees to be talked into shaky and/or shady investments and to loose all their money to investment advisors who appeared sincere but in the end bilk old folks and leave retirees broke. If that is all the money people have to retire on, what are they going to do? Martinez said, “not all people are in a position to manage investments well.”

Both Martinez and Whaller-Wharton urged university employees and retirees to get active to defeat this measure. Martinez said, “it is never to early for people to start thinking about what it is going to be like for them when they retire. People need to ask themselves, what is going to be there for them?”

If this measure is allowed to pass, the answer may be, not much.


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