May 10, 2009

In the meantime, my friends are telling me their college-aged kids can't find summer jobs. Thanks, BushCo!

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jose Villareal once had a successful career as a franchising executive with Pepsi Co. Now, at the age of 67, he can't even get a job as a school custodian.

Mr. Villareal is among the growing numbers of retirement-age Americans battered by financial losses who are trying to get back into the work force -- or never left it.

Participation in the labor force by workers over age 65, which has been creeping upward in recent years, hit 16.9% in April, the highest for that month since 1971, the Labor Department said Friday. Meanwhile, unemployment for workers in that age group was up sharply in April from a year earlier, to 5.8% from 3.5%.

"We're just living day-to-day," Mr. Villareal said.

In an April survey, 22% of workers nationwide said they were "not at all confident" that they will have enough savings for a comfortable retirement, surpassing the number who are "very confident" for the first time since the survey began in 1993, according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, based in Washington, D.C. A fifth of those workers said they now plan to work into their 70s. One in 10 doesn't plan to ever retire.

Retire? What's that? I'll probably have to keep plugging until the day I keel over.

Mr. Villareal's predicament is increasingly common in this Sunbelt city, where a fifth of the 215,000 residents are 65 or older, compared with one-in-eight nationwide.

Scottsdale's economy has long thrived on retirees, tourists and second-home buyers bringing their wealth to the city. Now, the massive loss of wealth in the U.S. has left the city vulnerable.

[...] The Villareal family's money troubles started earlier this decade, but have been exacerbated by the bad economy.

They lost much of their savings and cashed out their retirement funds in 2000 after a string of pizza restaurants Mr. Villareal opened in Mexico went bust. He then turned to running a small consultancy, but business dried up over the past year as the economy slowed.

Taking a big cut in pay, Mr. Villareal spent several months working in the cafeteria of a local high school, his daughter's alma mater, until a back injury ended that stint. Among other efforts, he applied for a custodian position in the school district, for which he was judged overqualified.

"I don't buy $200 shoes like I used to," said Mr. Villareal, dressed in a white polo shirt bearing a EuroDisney logo, chino shorts, loafers and ankle socks. "I'll wear these clothes for another 11 years -- what do I care?"

Because Mr. Villareal can't get a job, his 62-year-old wife, who had left the work force two decades earlier after the birth of their daughter, started working at a discount retailer where she earns $10 an hour.

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