Dave Simpson

Salem, OR

Right out of college I started working for the state of Oregon.  I had a great career, doing everything from working at a state park to managing a computer group.  My wife, a public school teacher, and I retired from the state two years ago after almost 61 years of combined service.

Our friends in the private sector made more money, but we worked for Oregon so we could serve the state and build a secure retirement.  We now live off a stable pension that allows us to pay our bills, visit our children, and even take some trips.  I know we’re lucky.  My wife and I were on vacation in Honduras and one of the hotel employees asked us what we did.  We told him we were retired.  He replied “I’ve heard of that, tell me more about it.”  After we explained it to him, he said only rich people could do that there.

More and more Americans are in the same boat as the Honduran since fewer are receiving pensions.  That’s exactly the wrong direction to go—Americans need more, not less retirement security.

Oregon is now moving new workers into 401(k)-like accounts instead of pensions so that they’ll depend on the stock market’s twists and turns to buy groceries and medicine.  During my last couple years working for the state, they started contributing to that account.  I don’t even look at the balance of it. It’s too depressing to look at since the stock market crashed.  Luckily, most of my retirement is in my pension.

My daughter’s in an even harder spot.  She works for an Internet start up in San Francisco that doesn’t even offer a 401(k)—just stock options.  If it’s the next Google, then she’ll do great.  But if it’s not…she’s 30 years old and has nothing saved for retirement.

When I hear politicians say it’s time to “empower” Americans with 401(k)s, I shake my head.  We’re not that far from the day when Americans think retirement is only for the rich too.