Retirement picture is fuzzy for many
A national study labeled Pasco as one of six counties that are a "very high retirement risk."
By CAMILLE C. SPENCER
Published July 14, 2006
James Gross, rail thin with a dark ponytail and boyish smirk, speaks bluntly about retirement.
"I'll be working until I'm dead," Gross says.
Gross, 46, is a Port Richey real estate agent who moved to Florida in 2002. He has no pension or retirement savings. He rents his house.
A slow real estate market forced Gross to take a second job last week managing a painting company.
His situation mirrors a Retirement Readiness Assessment, compiled by Americans for Secure Retirement, of the 250 largest U.S. counties and found that Pasco is one of six counties in the "very high retirement risk" category. Factors affecting Pasco's high ranking in the study: * A small percentage of the population is employed by the government, which lessens the likelihood of a pension plan.* A high number of retirees, some who aren't financially ready for retirement.* A population skewed toward an older demographic puts added pressure on community resources.
Pasco residents say their retirement nest eggs have been burdened by rising property values, inadequate education and, in some cases, personal issues like divorce.
A few years ago, Gross owned two pizza restaurants in Ohio and was senior engineer at a truck manufacturing plant.
He took home about $60,000 a year and lived in a condominium with his wife. She ran the restaurants.
"We set a plan. When we got into restaurants in 1998, we would retire when I turned 55."
But then Gross got divorced and lost his job. His retirement plans went down the tubes.
Gross spent what money remained to move to Florida to work as a project manager for a retail construction company.
When he wasn't on the road with his new job, he lived in a hotel. He made about $30,000 a year.
In 2005, he decided to switch gears. He went to real estate school while he worked odd jobs remodeling homes and painting.
"The market was still hot," Gross said. "I didn't want to get into the physical labor market. I did okay until October or November, when the bottom fell out of the market. You'd have a good month every third month. Sometimes, those months pay for the next two."
Now, Gross hopes to start a nest egg by working two jobs.
"Right now, I'm in the midst of setting up my goals and make those goals attainable," he said. "The frustrating part of it is a little bitterness from where I'm at now and why I'm there. It's the frustration of starting over that's the biggest thing. You just never know what's going to happen."* * *
At Wal-Mart in Port Richey, Joyce Mickelsen greets customers with small talk, smiley face stickers and a big grin.
It's a job the 51-year-old New Port Richey woman took five years ago after spending most of her life as a stay-at-home mother for her two sons. Her husband, Mark, is a construction worker.
Mickelsen of Syracuse, N.Y., makes about $15,000 a year as a people greeter. She and her husband have a 401(k), but only have about $5,000 earmarked for retirement.
For now, not heading to work every day is a distant goal for Mickelsen.
"I don't know if I'll retire before I'm 72," Mickelsen said during her shift Thursday afternoon. "I'll be lucky to still be alive. It makes you aggravated."
[Last modified July 14, 2006, 08:20:27]
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