Kelley Herford, not pictured, thought she’d be retired by now.
Compassionate Eye Foundation/Steven Errico/Getty Images
Kelley Herford, 63, thought she’d be retired by now. Instead, she’s still working.Herford said that she and her peers did everything right but are still struggling.Like more and more boomers, she’s also helping to support her millennial child.
Kelley Herford, 63, thought she’d be retired at the age of 62, or even 60.
“I’ve been blessed, but this isn’t what I expected my retirement years and pre-retirement years to look like,” she said.
Instead of drawing from a strong pension and not worrying about anything — her original vision for retirement — Herford is still punching the clock.
“I’m just going to have to work until I can’t work any longer,” she said.
Herford spent over 20 years working in a corporate role, an aspect of the boomer American dream that’s become out of reach for many younger workers.
But after suddenly getting laid off and having to weather the pandemic years with intermittent jobs and underemployment, Herford is in a different spot. She’s seen her IRA balance go down, dipping into the money sooner than expected.
“I never expected something like that to come along where I couldn’t work for a few years even doing nominal jobs,” she said. “And so I was living off of my savings.”
Herford said she is one of a generation who did what they were supposed to do to get ahead — go to school, buy a house, and establish a career. But not all of them feel it’s paid off in the way they’d hoped. Indeed, as BI’s Ann C. Logue reported, many boomers aren’t financially equipped to retire right now, with a solid chunk holding no retirement savings and over 17 million Americans over the age of 65 considered economically insecure.
“We did everything right,” Herford said. She remembers being told that, as a woman, things were better than they ever used to be — even if she was earning less. She said she was told, “Don’t ever rely on a man, and get your education, and stay with the same company and work hard and they’ll reward you. And my girlfriends and I, we all took that to heart.”
If it’s bad for boomers, it’s worse for their millennial kids
These days, Herford works as a nanny — a job she feels fortunate to have. She was able to buy a house in Charleston, South Carolina, with a good interest rate. It’s an area with opportunities for work, and has lower taxes and cost of living than the Washington, DC, area where she previously lived.
But she thought she’d have more of a cushion after she spent years saving a good chunk of her pre-tax income — she said she saved 15% of it while also raising a child in a single-income household.
“I always worked on the weekends doing whatever I could do to make sure I maintained my savings, thinking that if I had over a million dollars, I’d be set,” she said.
Instead, she said, she’s “hanging in there.”
She can’t travel. Her few splurges are continuing to have some streaming platforms, although she’s cut out a few of those. She doesn’t eat out. She tries not to touch her savings unless it’s money she needs to live.
“We did everything right and it was like we were treading backwards,” she said. “We were going backwards.”
Herford is also, like many parents, feeling the squeeze from both sides: She’s trying to stay afloat, and she’s also trying to ensure her kid does too.
It’s a situation that’s becoming more common, as more parents support their young adult children. A recent Pew Research Center survey of 3,017 adults and 1,495 young adults, conducted in October and November 2022, found that 59% of parents with kids ages 18 to 34 financially assisted them in the last year. In turn, just 45% of young adults in that age bracket said that they were completely financially independent from their parents.
“I do help my son and I’ll help him as long as I can because these millennials, if they don’t get together and have roommates or spouses, they’re scraping by as well,” she said. He lived with her briefly post-grad, and she still helps him out.
And while there may be criticism over older parents helping out their children, Herford asks: “What are we supposed to do? These kids came into a time when corporations are only rewarding people at the top.”
Herford said she just doesn’t know “how these kids are going to do it.” They’re not making enough money, they’re burdened with student loan debt, and just barely scraping by.
“Yes, boomer parents are helping them and maybe it will upset our retirement plans, but what are we supposed to do? I’m not going to sit back and watch him not be able to go buy groceries because the cost of everything is just completely out of control right now,” she said. “I think corporations are being very greedy. I think everyone raised their prices because they could, and I don’t know if it’s going to stop. It’s just a travesty. It’s really, really, really scary.”
Are you a boomer or retiree struggling financially or supporting an adult child? Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org.