This week, it was reported that in the past 15 months, the current financial crisis caused Americans to lose $2 trillion in their retirement plans.
While there is a definite need to worry, we have to remember that markets recover and that over time (a long time) retirement accounts will do the same. But not everyone has as much time as I do to save for retirement, especially those who were planning on retiring in the next five to ten years, like my parents and many of yours, and probably even some of you.
My mom, a cardiology nurse, and my dad, an orthopedic surgeon, were trained in Mexico. When we came to the U.S. almost twenty years ago, their foreign training did not allow them to work in the same capacity. The most similar position my dad could get was as a surgical technician, which he hoped would help see our family through while he studied for the medical boards. My mom, lacking a work visa, stayed at home to raise her two young sons. Economic difficulties eventually forced my dad to work longer hours, which cut down his study time and probably kept him from passing his exams.
A few years ago, after a couple of decades of trying to make ends meet, my Dad, still a surgical technician and in his early fifties, realized he had no savings and barely anything in his 401K; so he decided to take a second job. For the next several years he worked 80-hour weeks to build up his retirement. Then, about a year ago he got a break in the form of a great job offer that would allow him to quit his second job.
Just as he was back to enjoying weekends off for the first time in many years, the financial crisis forced his hospital to cut back their employees’ hours, and my dad took a second job. Again.
In the past few months, my dad probably lost all the money that he was able to funnel towards retirement these past few years slaving away. And now, he’ll have to work 80- hour weeks for a long time just to get back on track while the government uses almost a trillion dollars to buy up bad loans for pennies on the dollar.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that financial institutions don’t need help to get back on track so that money can begin to flow again to keep the economy going. And I’m not using my family’s experience in an effort to paint them as victims of “the man.”
But what I do hope their story points out is the approach we are using to rescue our financial system. This approach is founded on the de facto belief that financial institutions are the financial system, and that by rescuing them, we will all be okay. It doesn’t acknowledge that it is humans, their work, and their earnings that enable traders to play with money; and that until the average American worker gets a break, any financial rescue attempts will be unsustainable. Unfortunately, that simple fact seems to be lost on these guys.
By the way, that executive compensation that everyone is up in arms about, well, it seems that the provisions to limit it in the bailout plan may not be as strong as they’ve been touted to be.
What a surprise.