Plan To Retire? Fat Chance!

couple on a tropical beach
couple on a tropical beach

There's a joke circulating among midlifers that goes something like this: "Say, did you hear what Disney is renaming Fantasyland?" The punchline is: "They're going to call it retirement."

Yeah, I laugh all the way to the office every day as I think about that one.

A report released Friday by the Conference Board showed what analysts call a sharp uptick in the number of Americans between the ages of 45 and 60 who say they plan to delay retirement. Two years ago, 42 percent of respondents said they would likely delay retirement; today that number is 62 percent. Let's hear it for this "No shit, Sherlock" moment.

The demon behind this shift in attitude was of course the recession. Financial losses, layoffs, home value depreciation and income stagnation let the air out of the retirement balloon for most of us.

Don't get me wrong. I'm 63 and love my job -- and I feel mighty grateful to even have one. But if you asked me 20 years ago where I hoped to be at this age, the answer would have been on a beach in Mykonos, not at a desk in Los Angeles.

I never wanted to die in the saddle. But it's not looking like I have a whole lot of options. Count me among those who lost her decades-long job in the recession (at age 59.5), saw her home's value depreciate by about 40 percent, watched a stock portfolio disintegrate in weeks if not days, dipped mightily into a nest-egg just to stay afloat and squeaked through a two-year dark tunnel that tested my spirit, soul and sheer resourcefulness. But the biggest casualty of my recession battle was my ability to eventually retire.

Before any Millennials pipe up with how the likes of me and my kind are obstacles to their career pathways, let me assure them how if I could simply move on and make room in the jobs market for them, I would be delighted to. Perhaps if they'd agree to ante up their Social Security contribution, something could be worked out. But until someone comes up with a way to retire for someone like me -- who has worked her entire life and wouldn't mind kicking back soon if only it didn't require living in the street -- I think I'm here until my computer screen goes dark (so to speak.)

But I do have a beef with the Conference Board, and you may call it a war of words if you insist. By saying that they are "planning" to delay retirement, it makes it sound like this is something those 45- to 60-year-olds have a choice about. They don't. Frankly, the first item in midlifers' night-time prayers is that the workplace lets us stay a while longer. Trust me, job insecurity is what we fear most. A still-unemployed journalist I know says he would have preferred a terminal illness to his job loss in 2009 because with a terminal illness, the suffering ends while you still have a roof over your head. Lose your job and you can't necessarily say that anymore.

While the recession was an equal-opportunity destroyer of lives across the generations, I have long argued that it hit my demographic hardest for one simple reason: We have fewer work years left in which to recover what we lost.

And right now, more and more of us are realizing that the only thing standing between us and a dinner of catfood is the ability to work for as long as we can. Retirement? That would be the Disneyland E-ticket ride.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

10 Great Ideas For Retirement Jobs