As Retirement Plans Vanish, Older Hispanics Face Poverty

Colombian Ruby Ruiz, in Queens (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

At least three of every five Latino older adults in New York are extremely likely to live in poverty or financial hardship, mainly because they did not plan for their retirement (…).

Those were the findings revealed in a report recently published by AARP New York, which states that, of the 2 million workers between the ages of 50 and 60 living in New York, 41 percent are headed toward poverty. In Hispanic and African American communities, inequality is projected to be even worse.

“Nearly a million middle-class workers in New York State will have to learn to be poor because they will not have a retirement plan beyond social security,” said Theresa Ghilarducci, economics professor and director of the New School’s Retirement Equity Lab program, which created the report entitled “The Retirement Crisis in New York.” (…)

“We knew that retirement-related problems would arise as more employers stopped offering retirement plans, but this report is a disturbing revelation, particularly for the state’s residents of color,” said Beth Finkel, state director of AARP New York. (…)

The report also highlights that increasingly fewer Hispanic workers have access to savings options in their workplace compared to white workers. In the case of Hispanics, only 34 percent of jobs offer retirement options, the same as among Asians. Among white workers, the figure is 46 percent, and 42 percent among black workers. (…)

At 65, Colombian immigrant Ruby Ruiz is one of the faces of that life of poverty the report describes. Ruiz, who lives alone in a room in Queens, does not only admit that she did not save enough in the past, but that she never even thought of taking a retirement plan.

“When I was young, everything I earned went to helping my mom. I did not want her to lack anything and, honestly, I never imagined that my God would keep me alive this long and I did not prepare. Now, I am suffering, because I never imagined things would be this hard for me,” she said.

“At the age I am, moving from one home to the next is not easy. I continue working in whatever is available: cleaning, caring for children; I have even had to use a shovel in order to eat or pay the rent,” Ruiz added. The Cali native remembers volunteering in a senior home in her country when she was young, and now she fears that she will have a similar future.

“I do not like to bother anyone and although, thank God, I am still healthy and have no ailments, I know that I am not just going to stay like a pretty flower forever, so I have been looking into the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Home in the Bronx, so I can go there when I am not strong enough until it’s God’s will,” said the grandmother. (…)

“I tell my two children, who are still young: You need to save and plan things for the future. You think you will never grow old and, look at me now; people look at you as if you were a burden, as if you smelled bad. In the last house where I was renting a room they even called me witch, just because I stayed indoors due to depression.”

(…) Cuban-born Alexandra Mayón, 72, who receives pension benefits totaling less than $19,000 per year, regrets not having taken more responsibility about her future.

“The worst part is not growing old but growing old poor and alone. Your skin gets all wrinkled, and you even get used to that but, without money, you end up in a room like me, sick, and not knowing if I will have enough to eat tomorrow or to pay the rent, or if I will have to move to a shelter and die like a dog,” said the former dance teacher, who asked the state and the city not to abandon its elderly. “They need to help us, give us more income programs, because we have contributed a lot to this country.”

This year, in an attempt to improve the prospect of retirement protections, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature approved the Secure Choice program, which will offer private companies currently not offering retirement plans the option to provide employees with individual retirement accounts in which an amount could be deducted from their paycheck.

Council member Rafael Espinal (…) said that, in addition to retirement plans, local authorities should also help seniors with housing and food.

“This is a situation we must correct. The city needs to plan how it is going to use affordable housing projects for seniors. And the City Council needs to continue helping community organizations working with seniors,” said Espinal.

If the outlook is worrying for older adults retiring with social security, things look much worse for those who are undocumented.

“My situation is even more unfair because I have worked very hard here, I have paid taxes, and I do not even have a right to a small pension. I will have no choice but to return to Peru next year and live there as a boarder in my own children’s house,” said María Céspedes, 61.

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