Senior Living


Health & Spirit

Retirement isn't as easy as it used to be

By Ronnie Thomas, The Decatur Daily, Ala. on

Published in Senior Living Features

John Luke criss-crossed the country, visiting 48 states while working for 30 years in the sheet metal business.

He retired in February and drew his first Social Security check in July. His check was for $681.

With that amount, the 62-year-old Neel resident isn't living out his life on easy street.

"My top pay was $12 an hour, and it cost so much to follow construction," he said. "That's why I don't have any money now."

Getting to retirement isn't as easy as it once was, many baby boomers are finding. High energy costs drive up not only the expense of food but almost every other purchase of items people need to live comfortably.

Unlike Luke, Johnnie Washburn, 87, elected to move into an assisted-living home. Washburn rates Morningside of Decatur, where he has resided for more than a year, "The next thing to home. There's no grass to cut, no housekeeping and three meals a day."

Those going into assisted living facilities in north Alabama can expect to pay $35,000 to $54,000 a year.

Washburn, who retired in 1994 as executive director of the North Alabama Industrial Development Association, said he began planning for retirement when he started his work career at Decatur Iron and Steel in 1952.

"I could see out in the future that I needed something to retire on," he said. "Decatur Iron and Steel, where I worked for 13 years, didn't have a retirement plan, but I planned one on my own. At NAIDA, we had a share plan."

David Burt of the David Burt Agency in Decatur is a safe money manager. He has seen the downfalls of retirement planning.

"I began doing more financial planning last year, and it has really been alarming to me the people who are insufficiently prepared for their retirement years," he said.

Stretching funds

Burt is working with several clients ranging in ages from 35 to 65, attempting to find ways to stretch their funds for the rest of their lives.

"It's challenging in this market, given the low-interest environment, to find safe places for people to park their money without exposing them to undue market risks," he said.

Another potential dilemma that workers of all ages may not have accounted for is cost of long-term care.

"We're living longer and have many more people who need care in their retirement years," Burt said. "Because of either a lack of planning, a lack of understanding or a misbelief that the government is going to take care of them through entitlement programs -- which in most cases is simply not true -- very few are prepared to address it."

Lona Johns, executive director of the North-central Alabama Regional Council of Governments, points to a Genworth Financial study showing the state median for annual care costs in 2012. Most notably, the median for a private bedroom in assisted living facilities is $35,370 per year. The median for nursing home care accommodations in a semi-private room is $63,875, while a private room is $65,839.

Some people who need assistance but are determined to remain in their homes look for other opportunities, such as a Medicaid waiver program, which NARCOG administers.

"We spend on average between $700 and $800 per month on each client," Johns said. "We have 326 people now active in the program with 354 available slots."

One of those clients is Sandra Ray, 74, of Morgan County, who retired as a registered nurse with Kimberly Home Health at age 54 because of arthritis.

"I have been on the (Medicaid waiver) program for about 16 years," she said. "I have someone come in to clean and take care of my baths and personal grooming seven days a week."

Ray said she lives "very simply and very moderately" and that the (Medicaid waiver) program "is a Godsend. It allows me to stay comfortably in my home and extends to me every need I would have in a nursing home. I'm not going in a nursing home."

NARCOG also offers another program -- the Senior Community Service Employment Program -- which finds jobs for seniors. Johns serves as SCSEP project coordinator.


Back in Neel, Luke is one of 50 seniors in NARCOG's service area of Morgan, Cullman and Lawrence counties who takes advantage of SCSEP. He has been in the program almost four years and is a maintenance aide at Veterans Park in East Lawrence.

"I mow the grass, do other stuff and work about 14 hours a week at minimum wage, but it helps," he said.

Luke pays $150 a month to rent a mobile home. And he doesn't have health insurance. But, "At least I have a place to lay down my head at night," he said.

Luke lost the sight in his right eye as a 4-year-old when the top blew off an old pressure cooker and struck him in the face.

"I'm not disabled, so I never went on disability, although people told me I should," he said. "I'm too proud, I guess. I don't believe in taking anything that's not mine."

Luke said not having health insurance hasn't bothered him -- yet.

"I don't go to a doctor, and I never took pills," he said. "I've seen so many people get hooked on them. For example, for heartburn, all they have to do is drink a little pickle juice. I'm just an old country boy that figures it all out as I go along."

Luke, who spends most of his spare time with Fatman, a Yorkie-Poo, has a son and two grandchildren. He plans on his Social Security check and SCSEP to keep him stable and to assist his family when he can.

"I'd do without something to eat before they live in what I live in," he said.

Elizabeth Pilgrim, 76, on the other hand, does not have any complaints. She inherited The Light House from her late husband, Harold, and moved into Morningside more than a year ago.

"The help (at Morningside) has always been very nice. You know, life is what you make it," she said.

Pilgrim, born and raised in Georgia, moved with her family to Decatur in 1967. She said The Light House has been in good hands since her husband's death more than three years ago.

"It never closed," she said. "Builders came to me and said they would have to go elsewhere. And I believe people are shopping in Decatur. It's a wonderful city."

Pilgrim doesn't give much thought as to where her life goes from here.

"I'm just so happy every day," she said. "As long as I feel good and am not a burden to anybody, that's all I want."

Lynette Holtzclaw-Lovett, Morningside's executive director, said some initially struggle when relocating from their homes to residential facilities.

"But some have children that live out of town, who were worried about the safety of their loved ones and having someone to socialize with," she said. "We convinced them it was time to leave home and choose assisted living."


(c)2012 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

Visit The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.) at

Distributed by MCT Information Services

(c) The Decatur Daily, Ala.


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