A story of pensions, golf……..& life

I rarely take vacations and when I do, I like to completely unplug, escape and get back to the quiet of the country.  With my regular work being about retirement issues, employer contribution rates or budgets seemingly all day long, when I get away I want to just enjoy the quiet calm of ‘non-work’.

Well a couple of years ago I took a few days and escaped to Florida.  One day I took a ‘me’ day to go play golf.  By myself.  I love the quiet solitude of golfing alone.  As luck would have it I was able to get a cart by myself, with only two other guys playing in front of me.  I found out that were college roommates who became lifelong buddies.  It was great because I was in my own little world and as we played, I enjoyed my quiet time and listened to the distant exchange of their various life events.  One of the guys had retired several years ago, bought a vacation home and had done those retirement activities that we all hope we can do someday.  The other had experienced a more modest path and had been building his nest egg, working toward the same goals of retiring in comfort and security but had not yet retired.

As I listened, their stories had an all-too-familiar theme……..their plans hit a wall.  Both had private 401(k)-type investment accounts which had climbed over the years as the stock market had grown.  On paper each had accumulated a tidy little nest egg for a secure future, or so they thought.   Then the 2008-2009 market crash came home to roost.  Both of them suffered severe financial loss and were sent scrambling.  Luckily, one of the men had not yet officially retired and managed to retain his job.  He was scared, frustrated and had no idea when he’d ever be able to retire now.  The other man who had retired was in much more despair.  He sold his vacation home, downsized his existing house and had to rejoin the work world.  He too was scared, depressed and said he’d “probably have to work until he died.”  It was so sad to hear, though it’s something that’s all too common.  So I listened to their stories of dreams lost, discouraged and delayed. They shared their frustration to have worked all their lives to end up in this spot.  Then I about fell out of my golf cart with what I heard next, just a few minutes later.

“Hey, did you read about all that city pension stuff in the paper?” one of them said.   “Yes I did.  The new city council wants to do away with employee pensions and the employees are mad,” the other piped up.  “Well that’s baloney.  Pensions are ridiculous – they should have what we have.

Seriously! That’s what they said!  After they both had lamented about how their 401(k)s had completely failed them, they thought everyone should be in the same boat.  A race to the bottom.  It was at that point that I could keep silent no more.

“They should have what you have?” I asked.  “Really?  How’s that working for ya?”

Dead silence.  They looked at each other then looked at me like I’d just hit them with a brick.  Like many who so easily cast stones, they were so caught up in their negativity and despair they didn’t really understand what they were saying – until I made them stop and think.  What would we be as a society if we all had lost everything and had no retirement security?  Shouldn’t we all be working together to discover ways to allow ALL who work hard to be able to retire with the dignity and peace of mind of modest financial security?

We spent the next hour talking about productive, practical solutions to providing financial security to those who earn it.  I’m proud to say that LAGERS is one such solution, which should be modeled for all workers. It was as if I had suddenly invented fire!  They finally understood that it wasn’t us vs. them – that we are all in this together.    Looking back, it was one of the most enjoyable rounds of golf I’ve ever played.

Robert Wilson, Asst. Executive Secretary

Robert Wilson, Asst. Executive Secretary

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