A 63-year-old Peak Boomer Said She 'can't Even Think About Retiring' Despite Having A Master's Degree And Working Two Jobs | Old North State Wealth News
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A 63-year-old peak boomer said she ‘can’t even think about retiring’ despite having a master’s degree and working two jobs



Cathy said she’s nervous about retirement even though she’s worked her whole life and has a master’s degree.Pinkomelet/Getty Images

  • Cathy, a 63-year-old clerical worker in Minnesota, fears she may never be able to fully retire.

  • Despite having a master’s degree, she’s concerned about affording rent upon retirement.

  • Many peak boomers and ALICE Americans fear they will have to keep working well into retirement years.

Cathy R., 63, has a master’s degree and has worked all her life, though she’s very worried for her future.

The clerical worker in Minnesota has struggled to rise up the ranks throughout her career. She said she’s earning a salary similar to some entry-level positions despite nearly three decades in her current role. She’s nervous that even though she’s eligible for a pension in a few years, it won’t supplement Social Security payments nearly enough to live comfortably.

“I can’t afford life while working. How can I even think of retiring?” the St. Paul, Minnesota resident said.

Cathy is among the 30 million “peak boomers” born between 1959 and 1964 who will reach the traditional retirement age of 65 in the next few years. However, many are struggling to make ends meet, let alone have enough saved for retirement. Over half of peak boomers have just $250,000 or below in assets, according to the Alliance for Lifetime Income’s Retirement Income Institute.

Many peak boomers also fall into the growing category of ALICE, which stands for asset-limited, income-constrained, and employed. Many ALICE Americans fall above the federal poverty level and typically earn too much to qualify for government assistance, though most can’t afford their daily expenses.

“People are educated, and they’re trying to make a better living, but there are a lot of us who are barely making it because our wages are not livable,” Cathy said. “We’ve been working our whole lives and working hard.”

Living as an ALICE

Cathy grew up in Minnesota and attended the University of Minnesota, after which she enrolled in law school. She worked full-time as a legal secretary at the Attorney General’s office while in school part-time at night.

She said the job didn’t work out, as her supervisor disapproved of her leaving an hour early each day to attend classes. Law school didn’t pan out after two years, and she was laid off from her government position. She still had loads of student loan debt, and she took jobs in Minneapolis as a legal secretary at different law firms.

After a decade, she hadn’t climbed the corporate ladder at any firm, so she returned to working for the state government to attempt to make more money and not lose benefits. She worked at the Department of Revenue in the mailroom, then got a job as an administrative assistant for the state’s college system, which she kept for about 25 years.

Because she worked for the college system, she received free tuition for a degree, so she obtained a master’s in public administration shortly before the pandemic. She believed this would help her propel her career and get her out of a cycle of financial instability.

However, even with a master’s, she said she couldn’t find anything higher-paying than clerical work, as she was constantly told she didn’t have enough experience. She makes about $20 an hour and has good health insurance and vacation and sick leave, though she works part-time jobs as a tax consultant to supplement her income, which she said is common among many she knows.

She’s frustrated that even with decades of experience and years of networking, she feels trapped in a position that doesn’t pay her enough to fully get by. She said she’s seen entry-level positions offering a similar salary to what she makes now after 25 years.

“I was told, you can’t get a professional position because you don’t supervise. You can’t get a professional position because you don’t deal with budget,” Cathy said. “How are you supposed to get that experience when all you do is give me clerical work?”

She added that even finding flexible part-time work has been a struggle — she’s applied to many part-time positions that would require late hours or long weekends.

“The competition for part-time jobs is huge, everybody’s applying, but employers are not flexible for people who work full-time,” she said. “The way things keep going up? When is it going to stop? People are barely making it. A lot of couples, one is retired, the other is still working.”

‘Barely making it’

For over three decades, she lived in an apartment complex in St. Paul with affordable rent that rarely increased. Recently, she said her building owners changed and forced residents to reapply for their apartments due to remodeling, and many left for more affordable apartments.

She said the rent in her new apartment, which is now over $1,500 for a two-bedroom, increases at least $70 each year. She lives alone, meaning she’s reliant solely on what she brings in. Buying a home hasn’t crossed her mind for years, she said, even with first-time buyer programs.

“My parents said education will get you somewhere. Well, not always,” Cathy said. “The joke is that I’m one of the most educated clericals in the state of Minnesota.”

Her biggest expenses are various loans that she can’t consolidate due to high interest rates. To keep grocery bills down, she often coupons and only shops at the least expensive stores. She’s grateful that she can work from home, which saves money on transportation.

“I don’t own anything except a car, I always have to rent, but I don’t know how seniors on limited income are paying rent,” Cathy said.

She recently got her $40,000 in student loans forgiven from law school, though she said paying off much of it for 25 years on a clerical salary was challenging, especially with increased interest.

She thinks she can retire in five to seven years and get a pension that could give her enough to survive, though she’s not confident she’ll have enough. Per the Rule of 90 in Minnesota, in which a person becomes eligible for retirement benefits when their age plus years worked for the government exceeds 90, she can retire this year, though she would have to pay her health insurance until Medicare kicks in at 65.

“My biggest worry is how are we going to be able to keep affording rent when it keeps going up like that?” Cathy said. “There is only so much income I have. I live off of what I make every two weeks, and it’s scary.”

Are you a peak boomer or ALICE? Are you worried about retirement? Reach out to this reporter at nsheidlower@businessinsider.com.

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