But before we celebrate, it’s important to note that these levels are among the lowest of the world’s richest countries — a list of “lows” that includes places like Croatia and Mexico.
Why? Because, among other factors, America lacks universal health insurance and has the highest child, maternal, homicide and body-mass index rates of any high-income country.
What’s more, many Americans 50 years of age or more have discovered that living longer often requires them to work longer in order to keep up with their financial obligations and personal desires.
‘Faking Normal’ Over 50
That’s what one Washington, D.C., resident, Elizabeth White, a former chief operating officer for a midsize nonprofit organization, once-celebrated entrepreneur and MBA graduate of Harvard Business School, learned while struggling on the edge of a financial precipice for years, despite her outward appearances.
White, now in her 60s, chronicles the pain she experienced as her flourishing career and upper-middle class lifestyle came to a grinding halt in her 2017 self-published book, Fifty-Five, Unemployed and Faking Normal. She says that while she “pretended” that things were going great, in truth she feared the future — and soon discovered that she had a lot of company.
“There’s a lot of pressure to act like you’re doing well. That’s why I describe my personal reflections as an act of ‘faking normal,'” she said while speaking to media at the World Congress of Gerontology and Geriatrics in San Francisco last July.
White admits that the townhouse she purchased years ago now has a rental rate that she couldn’t begin to afford today. Nor can she afford to pay the fee for private parking.
Meanwhile, and in terms of how she reached her unexpected financial crisis, White says that after making her mark as one of only a handful of black women employed by the World Bank, she took a huge piece of her retirement savings to fund her own business. Her enterprise promoted African-inspired products — a venture that had tremendous potential but which eventually failed.
“We were doing well, but I could see that we were not going to be able to grow the business into a national chain as we were already struggling with volume,” she said. “One day I just closed my stores.”
From $200K a Year to $0
For a while, White survived on receiving consistent consulting work. Then, as the 2008 economic crash occurred, she went from close to $200,000 a year to zero.
“The jobs of the past weren’t there anymore,” she said. “And I found it harder to get hired than I did years earlier — probably due to age discrimination. It didn’t matter how great I may have looked. I learned that early; being in one’s 50s was no longer considered ‘young’ in the workplace. I realized I was in trouble.”
Recent data from several social research organizations indicate that from ages 45 to 55, wages decline by nine percent or more — then dropping by an additional nine percent for those between 55 and 64. And most experts say age discrimination starts at around 35 with women bearing the brunt much sooner and more intensely than men.
“Maybe it was too many bottled waters and too many visits to Starbucks,” White says with a laugh. “I was embarrassed to admit to my friends what was going on in my life. But it was those same friends who helped me make it. I realized I had to come to terms with my new reality and deal with life on new terms.”
In her book, White provides over 100 online resources and offers ways to deal with the emotions she faced after landing in financial ruin.
“We’re in the midst of a massive paradigm shift,” she states in the book’s conclusion. “Much of what we know has been turned on its head. We’re going to make mistakes. Learn from them. Forgive yourself. Focus on what is working. Throw the rest away.”
Kevin McNeir wrote this article for the Washington Informer as part of the Journalists in Aging Fellows Program organized by The Gerontological Society of America, New America Media with sponsorship from AARP.