For some, retirement is considered the golden years. A time for retirees to sit back and relax after a lifetime of hard work. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Maine has the the oldest median age in the country. In other words, Maine’s people aren’t getting any younger.
For some Mainers, retirement isn’t an option and some of the state’s oldest people are working just to get by.
Betty Dietz is a 78-year-old Bangor resident. For much of the week you can find her working at the Bangor Homeless Shelter. She does it cause she likes it, but that’s not the only reason.
“If I want a life, I have to,” said Dietz.
When it came time to think about retirement, she wasn’t ready.
“I did not have any kind of retirement, I only worked one job that offered retirement, and at that time I didn’t understand what it meant,” she said.
Dietz grew up in Aroostock County and says as a young girl and woman she was never taught about saving money or preparing for the long-term.
“I came from a family that all left school by the eighth grade, and they didn’t understand any of that,” Dietz said. “I was a good student, and I learned well, but none of those things were taught in school.”
As a single mother, she worked a number of low-income jobs to keep food on the table.
“You don’t thrive under those circumstances,” she said. “You do survive, but you don’t thrive.”
When it came time to retire Dietz didn’t have enough money saved to stop working, which is something that happens to many people in our country.
According to research from the National Institute of Retirement Security, 40 percent of retirees don’t have any savings to live on.
Japhet Els of a AARP Maine says it’s a common problem for Mainers.
“Close to or just over 30 percent of Mainers over 65 are living exclusively off of social security,” Els said. “That’s a huge red flag. That means…there’s a ton of folks who are older in Maine, who are quietly living in poverty.”
Els says the reasons for that vary.
“Part of the reason why they’re struggling is that because they haven’t had the option to save for retirement through their employer in their working life,” he said.
For Dietz, saving for retirement wasn’t high on the priority list when there were many other things to worry about.
“I worked a lot of jobs that didn’t have very much income for a woman, and I was a single mom for a lot of years, so it’s called survival,” Dietz said.
Survive she did. All the while keeping a positive attitude.
“I’m grateful,” said Dietz. “I am very grateful. I love what I do. I’m grateful I‘m still able to do it and that people allow me to do it.”
She says there’s no specific date set for when she plans to stop working, but she is putting money aside so that she’s ready when the time comes.
“It won’t be extravagant, by any means,” said Dietz. “But it’ll be OK.”