Seniors Face Working Retirement

Lost pensions, economy altering golden years

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George Nusshart, the congenial man who greets customers at Safeway, got his start at 14 working in the local Polish meat market in his neighborhood in Indiana.

Little did he know that more than a half century later, when he should be reaping the rewards of his contributions to America's wealth and power, Nusshart would still be trying to make ends meet.

"People ask me, ‘George, why are you still working?'"

His answer is simple: "I lost my pension with the union."

Nusshart's far from alone. For many Americans, unless they return to work, monthly Social Security benefits are their only source of income.

The maximum amount a worker can receive at full retirement, 65.6 years old, is $1,939 a month. But most retired workers make less.

According to the Social Security Administration, the average monthly payout is $955.

Nusshart, now 77, learned his trade -- baking -- at the Marine Corps barracks 8th and I in Washington, D.C. It was during the Korean War.

After the military, he joined the civilian work force as a baker.

He worked for Kremo in the Midwest, and Stewart's Sandwiches and Holsum in the Southwest.

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Bob Hendrie, 67, retired in 1999. "I just got a little bored," said Hendrie, who now drives a parking lot shuttle at Mazatzal Casino.

"A couple of fellows that I'd worked with had come out to Arizona and worked for Holsum," Nusshart said. "They called me and said, ‘Hey George, we've got a job for you, do you want to come in?"'

Nusshart filled out his union withdrawal and headed West, figuring his benefits would transfer -- after all, it was the same union.

"At that time I didn't know that the East and the West were different," he said.

When Nusshart turned 65, he applied for his pension. That's when he discovered that his union benefits weren't transferable. At least, he thought, he would get a percentage from each union.

But the union sent him letters stating they did not recognize each other -- there would be no pension forthcoming from the 21 years he worked for Stewart Sandwiches.

"It's unreal how many seniors have lost their pensions," said Nusshart. "There's a lot of us who just have to work."

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which helps workers recoup lost pensions funds, reported that 3,479 pension plans have gone insolvent since Congress created the agency in 1974.

"All companies had to have cash in the bank for your pension," said Nusshart. "They had to have so much capital set aside in case of emergency or something so they just canceled me off and paid me a lump sum."

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Rosalie Friday, 74, had to return to work to earn much-needed medical benefits.

The AARP reported that lump-sum payments often fall short of the full amount because of poor accounting and the worker's failure to read the small print. Nusshart said he applied for pension relief years ago, but his request was denied.

"After I retired, all we were living on was our Social Security," Nusshart said. "Mary (wife of 37 years) and I can't have two cars, she can't go out and get her hair fixed. So I said to myself, ‘It's time for me to get out there and get a job.'"

According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security benefits were never meant to be the sole source of retirement income.

"I found out that I wasn't going to be able to live comfortably," said Nusshart. "Not necessarily being in poverty, but it was going to be real tough. I figured, ‘I'm 65 years old, what am I going to get that has benefits?' because I really needed them."

Nusshart applied at the Payson Safeway. He was hired as a courtesy clerk.

"After a real short time they put me in the deli, then somebody left at the bakery and they asked me if I wanted to be a donut fryer," Nusshart said. "I've got a gift of gab. You'll probably see me sometime in the deli. ‘There's George. What's he selling? I gotta go over there and find out his sales pitch.' I just pour it out," he laughed.

This week Nusshart's shifts start at 7 a.m.

"I've met a lot of beautiful people and made a lot of good friends," Nusshart said.

"I enjoy my work so much. I really do. I'm a people person. I don't know what I'd do if I retired."

And now, after 12 years of employment at Safeway, he has health insurance and a small, but growing pension.

The U.S. Administration on Aging reported that Americans 65 and older represent one of the largest labor forces. Many older workers are delaying retirement to begin second careers, while others continue to work for personal satisfaction or for financial reasons.

Rosalie Friday, 74, busses tables at Mazatzal Casino's Cedar Ridge Restaurant.

Rosalie and her husband Thomas, have lived in the Rim country for more than 50 years.

"If I stay in Payson I need to work until either I die or my husband dies," Rosalie said.

Thomas, who's legally blind, closed his shop, Music Odyssey, after three massive heart attacks.

The couple tried to survive on Social Security.

"Financially, we didn't have enough money," said Rosalie. "We lost our business because he couldn't work. So I decided to go back to work to have the insurance."

But Rosalie said she'll be able to quit soon. Her son, the owner of a successful franchise, will be supporting her.

"Very few people are this fortunate," Rosalie said.

Working past 65 becoming the norm

According to the Social Security Administration, the number of workers leaving the work force is fewer than those entering it. Therefore, there's less money to support pension and retirement funds.

Workers born after 1967 must toil away until their 67th birthdays to start receiving full benefits.

"Unless changes are made, at age 71 in 2041 your scheduled benefits could be reduced by 26 percent..." reported the Social Security Administration.

By 2079 the Social Security Administration expects people to live to 100; benefits could be reduced 32 percent by today's standard.

Payson resident, Dominic Ciaccio, in his late 70s, now drives to the Valley for his job after being retired for 11 years.

"I have a respectable income, but it is not enough with my considerable family obligations," he said.

Ciaccio, holds a master's degree and has 40 years experience teaching. He grades essay papers for the Pearson Company. There are no benefits other than the wages he earns.

"I couldn't find anything in Payson that pays as well or was enough hours to be viable extra income," Ciaccio said.

Even so, some retirees consider working through their golden years a rewarding endeavor. Bob Hendrie, 67, is a parking lot shuttle driver at Mazatzal Casino.

"I sold my business in 1999 and retired," Hendrie said. "I just got a little bored. I enjoy meeting the people, the hours are good, and if I wasn't working, I would just be sitting around. A little extra money doesn't hurt either, so it's really not bad."

Resources for seniors working after retirement

U.S. Administration on Aging, Region 9

www.aoa.gov

(415) 437-8782

Arizona Aging and Adult Administration

www.de.state.az.us/aaa

(602) 542-4446

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

www.pbgc.gov

(800) 400-7242

AARP: Arizona

www.aarp.org/states/az

(866) 389-5649

Seniors in rural communities

www.geezer.com

(877) 803-1468

Social Security Administration

www.ssa.gov

(800) 772-1213

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