Monday, April 23 , 2018, 5:54 pm | Fog/Mist 57º

Your Health
A Noozhawk partnership with Cottage Health

Who Said Anything About Retirement?

Precarious economy, increasing life expectancy driving more seniors to work longer

Many people are faced with the seesaw decision of continuing work or retiring. What may have been a more black and white process 20 years ago is now clouded by a higher life expectancy and uncertain economy.

Jo Black is sifting through the gray area.

“I’m planning to work until I’m 70,” said Black, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center, which serves people with disabilities in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties. “I decided not to retire at 66 because of the economy; I don’t feel safe stopping work at this point.”

Josephine Black, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center, is planning to work longer than she had expected. 'I want more of a cushion, and given the reactionary nature of the economy, you have to have more of a cushion than usual,' she says.
Josephine Black, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center, is planning to work longer than she had expected. “I want more of a cushion, and given the reactionary nature of the economy, you have to have more of a cushion than usual,” she says. (Alex Kacik / Noozhawk photo)

Black, 66, has worked for the center for more than 26 years, investing into her 403(b) plan, a tax-sheltered annuity similar to a 401(k) but primarily for nonprofit employees. Taking the advice of her financial adviser, she will work longer to draw more from her Social Security.

“At the low point (of my savings) it wouldn’t have provided enough foreseeable resources to save up for as long as my mother had lived,” she said.

“There is some down and dirty figuring you have to do. Is it going to as last as long as I need it to without having to eat my cat’s food?’” she joked.

Black wants to have the financial flexibility to spend time with her grandchildren and support various organizations and nonprofit groups.

“I want more of a cushion, and given the reactionary nature of the economy, you have to have more of a cushion than usual,” she said.

For more than two decades, Black has fought individual and statewide battles to provide disabled members of the community with equal access and the opportunity to live independent lives as they choose. Black’s job can take her anywhere from California Mental Health Planning Council meetings in Sacramento to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital to interpret a deaf person’s needs through sign language. It’s that variety and ability to enact change that ultimately motivates her to continue working.

“We serve anybody of any age, of any disability who can benefit from our services,” she said. “The fact is government is cutting services to people who have already been deeply affected. They are balancing the budget on the backs of people who can least advocate for themselves.”

Working longer has been a common trend not only because of the economy and state of wellness. People want to stay busy because they are afraid of inaction, Black said.

“If they come to the end of work and don’t have something they could market in retirement to augment their income, it’s scary,” she said. “I think that’s the situation with some of the greeters in Walmart. Those kind of jobs you see seniors take over and many were great workers.”

But Black is also motivated by her depression.

“I have depression so it scares me to stay at home, and thinking of not working concerns me,” she said. “That was the tipping point to go ahead and continue.”

In the 1970s, Black didn’t realize it was a feeling one could correct because depression was so stigmatized.

“Sometimes if you don’t have a place to routinely get up and go to it’s worse,” Black said. “To think ‘Why should I get up if I don’t have a reason’ is a scary thing. I don’t want to descend down that rabbit hole.”

She uses that experience and motivation to lead her advocacy efforts.

Black’s coworker, Ken McLellan, is a community-living advocate who uses his disability as a means to provide for the deaf.

“The fear of an unstable economy has kept me working longer, food and gas prices keep going up but many places are cutting payroll,” said McLellan, who relayed his sign language through Black as she matched the pitch and tempo of her voice with McLellan’s facial expressions.

Aside from the economy it’s the challenge a small town presents for the deaf that keeps McLellan, 66, motivated.

“I never want to retire,” he said. “Many deaf people feel left out and disenfranchised and I can be the advocate empowering them with communication. I help create a bridge so they can communicate so they don’t feel afraid of the world and develop self-esteem. Until there isn’t a need for that, I won’t stop.”

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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