As estate planning attorneys who assist our clients with their retirement goals and Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security needs, it’s easy to get lost in that vacuum. But a recent story in Harper’s magazine is enough to jar anyone into the “here and now”. Freelance journalist and adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Jessica Bruder, has just blown the lid off of what she calls the “elderly migrant worker”. When the elderly can’t afford to retire, they often find themselves traveling the world, working seasonal jobs – and they’re not necessarily experiencing a pleasant adventure.
Why the Elderly Can’t Afford to Retire
The reasons are many: no pensions, 401 (k) plans that are anything but retirement-ready, the appalling healthcare system in the U.S., unemployment and more – these are all feeding into the fears of many older Americans who are suddenly without a Plan B.
They’re finding their way into Amazon warehouses (yes, the same Amazon where you just bought that big screen television), amusement parks and even farms. These seasonal jobs are keeping them from going completely financially broke, even as their bodies are breaking down. Sadly, many are dying because of their efforts.
She writes, “Since the financial crisis ripped the security out from under millions of people, the bulk of our politicians, including President Obama, actually tried to reduce, rather than increase, Social Security,” and goes on to explain how the elderly are hitting the highways in hopes of snagging one of these temporary jobs.
She goes on to explain that not only are there thousands of older Americans choosing this lifestyle, but the numbers are growing quickly. For example, Amazon, in 2008, introduced its CamperForce program that invited retired Americans to spend some of their holiday time with them, filling orders, in their many warehouses across the country. Now, they’re coming in by the thousands. A sugar company has also increased its numbers, up for around 400 in 2012 to close to 700 in 2013. Some of these older retirees are walking as much as 15 miles a day, either helping in the fields or filling orders in those massive warehouses.
Worse, the ads targeting these workers make it seem like a fun adventure, only to learn, once they arrive, it’s anything but. It’s backbreaking work being performed by those who are now stranded and can’t return home until they’ve earned enough for the trip back. The prizes, parties and other “community activities” that they are promised are woefully short in delivery.
Medicaid and Medical Services
She says that some states have lax residency requirements, which makes them eligible for many government programs, but they’re on the road, a lot too, so by the time those benefits begin to come in, they’re already planning the next stop. Not only that, but many states also require Medicaid applicants to see a doctor, which many do not have the money for. It’s a vicious cycle for a lot of these seniors. Often, they don’t want to burden families, so they suffer alone, leading their adult children and grandchildren to believe they’re having a great time.
Stories such as these further highlight the importance of planning. Qualifying for Medicaid, for example, can be a bit time consuming. The sooner you get the ball rolling, the greater the odds of you not being left vulnerable. There is the 5 year look back and the spend down rules to consider, as well. With a bit of planning, this can be overcome so that your retirement years are indeed spent living the way you choose and not because you have no options.