Sunday, December 8, 2019

Working past retirement age

Retirement is like the carrot you can never quite reach. Not only does the retirement age keep moving as life expectancy increases, but also the cost of living keeps increasing, making a comfortable retirement harder to achieve.

The first recorded retirement plan was in 1881 in Germany when the retirement age was set to 70 with the promise of a government funded pension. Given that the average life expectancy at that time was less than 60, this was a fairly safe bet. It was later reduced to 65, still not a great risk of having to payout.

In my case, a divorce after 21 years of marriage left me starting from scratch in my late 40s where most people should start saving towards retirement in their early 20s; of course, many do not. As soon as I found full time employment, after I moved to the US, I did put money into a 401K. After two years a small setback restarted the clock. My boyfriend at the time 'talked me into' withdrawing the cash when I moved jobs. Not only did I take a large tax hit, I started from scratch again. Learning the error of my ways I continued to put the maximum amount allowable into my 401K and some employers matched that, if not 100% at least to some extent which helped it grow. Now, after 23 years of carefully managing this process I do have a healthy savings, but still not enough to retire comfortably.

Then, add to that mix, taking on the responsibility of caring for an elderly widowed mother in law. She wasn't widowed when my husband and I made the decision to open our home to her. When her husband was diagnosed with dementia and placed in a home, we couldn't see her on her own. We searched for 6 months to find the right house to support all three of our needs and she moved in with us. Five years later she started losing her eyesight; we decided that as she could no longer drive and would need help with many other things, one of us needed to stay home and care for her, drive her to her many doctor appointments and generally be available. It was a no brainer that my husband was nominated for this task. After all, she was his mother but also his salary was less than mine. Naturally, that reset the clock on any idea I had of retirement. Not only did we sacrifice his salary now I was supporting both of them and a large house. It had to be large in order to satisfy my mother in law's requirement for a master suite downstairs.

I can't really complain because I am extremely lucky to have a good job, with a company who doesn't judge me by my age, but by the work I do. They do value me despite my age. I know this is not always the case with older workers. Companies are all too quick to ease them out, in part I am sure because the longer you work the higher your salary goes and hiring a college graduate to do the same job would definitely be a lot cheaper. Whatever the reason, now past the normal retirement age I am still working full time - and in my profession, software engineering, that generally means 50+ hours per week, with no light at the end of the tunnel.

There are times I would dearly love to not have to get up and go to work. I fondly imagine that I would be able to work out regularly, write and relax. But a little voice inside me says I would probably sit around thinking I should be doing those things but actually doing nothing and getting bored. It is a moot point as I don't see that happening any time soon.

Here is a fascinating comparison of the retirement ages internationally, from this site:

 Current general retirement age (2019)
Future retirement age
  EU Men/ Women Retirement age or men/women
 Austria (AT) 65 / 60 years 65 years (2033)
 Belgium (BE) 65 years 67 years (2030)
 Bulgaria (BG) 66 years and 4 months 67 years (2023)
 Croatia (HR) 65 years / 62 years 67 years (2038) / 65 years (2030); 67 years (2038)
 Cyprus (CY) 65 years 65+ years (2018)
 Czech (CZ) 63 years and 6 months / 63  years and 2 months 65 years (2036)
 Denmark (DK) 67 years; 65 years and 6 months* 67 years (2022); 68+ years (2030)
 Estonia (EE) 63 years and 6-9 months 65 years (2026) 68+ (2027)
 Finland (FI) 63 years 3-6 months . 68 ; 65* years 65+ years (2027); 65+ (2030)
 France (FR) 66 years and 2 months 67 years  (2023)
 Germany (DE) 65 years and 7 months 67 (2031)
 Great Britain (GBR) 65 years 67+ (2028), 68 (2046)
 Greece (EL) 67 years 67+ years (2021)
 Hungary (HU) 64 years 65 years (2022)
 Ireland (IE) 66 years 68 years (2028)
 Italy (IT) 66 years and 7 months 67+ years (2022)
 Latvia (LV) 63 years and 6 months 65 years (2025)
 Lithuania (LT) 63 years and 10 months / 62 years and 8 months 65 years (2026)
 Luxembourg (LU) 65 years –
 Malta (MT) 63 years 65 years (2027)
 Netherlands (NL) 66 years 67+ years (2022)
 Poland (PL) 65 years / 60 years –
 Portugal (PT) 66 years and 5 months 66+ years (2016)
 Romania (RO) 65 years / 61 years – 61 years and 2 months -/63 years (2030)
 Slovakia (SK) 62 years and 6 months 63 years and 2 months+  (2024)
 Slovenia (SI) 65 years –
 Spain (ES) 65 years and 6 months 67 years (2027)
 Sweden (SE) 61-67 years; 65 years* 63-69 (GP; 2023),  63+ (2026); 66 (2023), 66+ (2026)
 Other countries Men / Women Retirement age or men/women
Australia 57 years; 65 years and 6 months* 60 years (2025); 67 years (2023)*
 Canada (CA) 65 years –
 Iceland (IS) 67  years
 Japan (JP) 63 years / 62 years; 65 years* 65 years (2025) / 65 years (2030); –
 Norway (NO) 62-75 years; 67 years* –
 Russia (RU) 60 years and 6 months / 55 years and 6 months 65 years (2028); 60 (2028)
 Switzerland (CH) 65 years / 64 years –
 USA (US) 66 years 67 years (2027)
This paper has an interesting perspective:

"At the same time, the paper offers evidence that more productive workers stay in the workforce longer than less productive ones. Using a standard measure of worker productivity – hourly wages – workers between 60 and 74 are more productive than average workers who are younger. Compared with workers between 25 and 59, the pay premium for older workers is currently between 10 percent and 20 percent of the average wage earned by the younger workers. That pay premium has been increasing for a decade. There is little evidence the aging workforce has hurt productivity."

Monday, December 2, 2019

Appreciation and the lack thereof

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. —GK Chesterton
I started this blog entry after observing people with absolutely no manners; by that I mean, it never occurs to them to say 'please' or 'thank you'. I get that I am somewhat obsessed with manners. I was brought up with a mixture of French weird - "don't put your elbows on the table" and Irish country "anything goes" but with five siblings, all bets were off. We policed each other cruelly, not to improve manners but to impose some sort of hierarchy, but that translated into manners.

I wondered how you could get past teenage years without someone having drilled into you not only "don't talk with your mouth full", "don't smack when you are eating" but also the need to say please and thank you at the appropriate time and more important, to understand the idea behind these words, simple appreciation for what others do for you, no matter how small. More so when someone puts them self out to help you. It is irritating when you make room in traffic for other drivers without any acknowledgement, but so much worse when you really inconveniencing yourself for someone and get no thanks.

As I did some research I realized this was not so much a function of manners, but more a matter of emotional intelligence (EQ). The more I read, the more it made sense to me. One particular person I knew, let's call her Jane, displayed not only the above mentioned bad manners but many other traits which I discovered are associated with low EQ.

Jane frequently talked of a friend, she had many years ago, let's call her Mary; they were both stay-at-home moms and spent their days together, drinking coffee, shopping, laughing and generally enjoying each other's company. "What happened to Mary?" I asked, Jane replied "Her husband died and she was devastated; I stayed away from her after that because she was so boring about it". I was horrified, firstly that she would have so little sympathy for her friend, and second that she didn't see anything wrong in her response to her friend's tragedy and didn't feel the need to comfort her. Not exactly a "friend in need". I had a very hard time understanding how someone could be so callous.

I looked more closely at Jane's other behavioral traits and became aware of indications that this woman had absolutely no empathy at all. She frequently said things like "you are getting fat" without any understanding of not only how rude that is, but also how hurtful it is. The other interesting think I noticed is that she didn't feel deeply herself. Least of all gratitude. She felt entitled to everything she had and everything anyone did for her, and often it wasn't enough. She had no problem asking people to do things for her, without any thought to how it inconvenienced them; and without a please or thank you.

Definition of empathy from this article:
"Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion," writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects.
At the same time as I was noticing these qualities in my acquaintance - I can't call her my friend because she is incapable of meeting my definition of a friend, I was introduced to the theory of Emotional Intelligence through training at work. This led to my conclusion that Jane had very low EQ and lack of empathy was just one of the indicators.

This article describes the benefits of high EQ in the workplace:
  • Nearly 90% of top performers have a higher level of emotional intelligence.
  • Emotional intelligence accounts for 90% of career advancements when IQ and technical skills are roughly similar.
  • Emotional intelligence is responsible for 58% of your job performance.
According to this article other indicators of low EQ are:
  • Being argumentative
  • Oblivious to the feelings of others
  • Thinking others are overly sensitive
  • Refusing to listen to other points of view
  • Blaming others for mistakes
  • Inability to cope with emotionally-charged situations
  • Sudden emotional outbursts
  • Difficulty maintaining friendships
  • Lack of Empathy
This article is more specific about the qualities associated with high EQ:
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Empathy
  • Motivation
  • Social skill
Yes, Jane definitely has very low EQ and it comes as no surprise that there is a correlation between EQ and IQ, as described here. But even more interesting is that high EQ is considered more important that high IQ as a determinant of success - see this article.

Friday, November 29, 2019

When you have to make a choice.

I loved the America I came to, back in 1994. I didn't love Clinton, president at that time. Of course, I didn't have a clue about American politics. In fact, I knew nothing about politics period. I cared nothing about politics. The only thing I knew about Clinton was that he was a lousy husband. I had experience there and so I didn't like him.

During the fall and winter of 1994 I lived in a big house on Lake Austin, house sitting, sort of like legal squatting. One day I answered the phone - yes a land line - and was asked by a disinterested voice if I considered myself to be a Democrat or a Republican. That was when I realized if I was going to be an American, I needed to pick sides, I needed to know what I believed in, I needed to understand what each party stood for, and what I stood for.

This was very disconcerting. First of all, as I said, I cared little or nothing about politics, secondly even less about US politics. From the day I turned 18, I voted because I believed in exercising a right that women fought for. But I pretty much followed the normal Irish family loyalties and didn't understand what I was voting for.

Here I was 'born again' in my second chance life. If I was to embrace my new American life, I needed to understand the political choices, even if there were only two - that in itself was strange to me.  Little did I know back then that everything in America is either black or white. And to the majority of those Americans with what used to be, hidden prejudice, if you were not white, you were black - or at the very least 'colored'.

So I answered the disinterested voice with "I have no idea, I will have to find out" and hung up.

I grew up in Ireland. And even by Irish standards I was a bit of a rebel. Also, I didn't yet understand that in America you don't talk about politics or religion unless you know who you are talking to, and if it is safe; though I am not sure that would have made any impression on me. I asked just about everyone I met if they could explain the difference between Democrat and Republican. Of course, I knew that I was going to get a response slanted towards the respondents personal choice and, like religion, they would try to convert me. One person I came across under relatively unusual circumstances, stands out in my memory because to this day I can't figure out what side he was on. Perhaps he was a libertarian? Maybe there are more than two choices? nah, not really.

The circumstance was a party at the lake house where I was house sitting, not my party, in fact I didn't even know it was planned. The couple who drove me down to Texas from Northern Michigan and decided to stay a while threw the party.  Kevin had just completed a rather long drug study - two weeks - the drug being studied was an anti depressant. There is a lot of money to be made doing drug studies and this allowed them to continue to live by the lake until their next adventure. Two weeks of possibly being on anti depressants fosters a camaraderie apparently, and the group of guinea pigs were loath to part ways and so gathered around the pool to continue to enjoy each other's company.  I had work the next day but as I couldn't sleep with all the noise I joined the party. This is where I continued my political survey.

One of the participants in the drug study, and my survey, took my question very seriously and responded at length. He carefully described the various policies and inclinations of both parties in an incredibly unbiased fashion. When I dug deeper with specific questions he responded to these in the same way. My experience since has been that this young man must be the only person in America who can remain so objective when discussing politics. In fact, he was so objective I was still unsure of where I stood. But, what he did give me was an education and a starting point from which I could then observe and continue to learn and finally decide.

What decided me was watching the way people behaved and reacted to each other, to tragedy and to triumph; and eventually exposing their inner prejudices, or lack thereof. More importantly, how they responded based on those prejudices. Because of course we are all products of our upbringing, we all inherit prejudices we don't even know we have. But it is how we deal with them, how we respond to one another when it really counts, that is what decides who and what you really are. And that is what helped me to decide which side I was going to come down on the next time I got a phone call asking what my political leaning is because, at that stage I was not in a position to vote; that came later, now that I have the right to vote I use it, I just wish more Americans did too.

My choice is empathy.

My choice is kindness

My choice is tolerance.

I am still working on the latter, sometimes it is not easy, particularly when coming up against someone with no understanding of all three.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Living the dream

That is what I was doing. For 22 years, despite some not so good experiences, I was living the dream. I won a green card in the lottery and in 1994 I arrived in America - no, the streets were not paved with gold and I never expected them to be, but the opportunities were there for anyone who was prepared to work hard enough to get within grasping distance; and I was, and I did. The story is documented in my book.

But now the dream has crumbled and I am beginning to feel that I am living in a nightmare. Ever since the election in 2016, all of my fears are one by one, becoming reality. Before the election I continuously lamented the future that I saw should the unthinkable happen. My husband assured me that America would never allow such an atrocity; it did.

At first I thought that it was horrible to see the hatred being created, but then I realized it was there all the time. All that had changed is that the new regime condoned hatred, bigotry, racism and nepotism. If the President of the United States openly displayed these traits then all of those Americans sharing such unbelievable 'unAmerican' feelings crawled out from under the stones and out of their swamps. How could I have believed this was the land of the free, home of the brave? it is the land of the worst kind of hatred, greed and evil. Why would anyone believe that just because the war against slavery was won, the feelings that created slavery were not still in existence?

I told my husband that if Trump became president I would leave the US - I couldn't imagine continuing to live here, to my mind that would not only be condoning all that he stood for, but also giving up the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the new life that I had fought so hard to create. Of course I would not leave my husband, and I know he would have come with me. But we couldn't leave. The irony of it is I was stuck in this nightmare because of my responsibilities to a republican who voted for this monster. My widowed mother in law lived with us from the time her husband was moved into a home with Alzheimer's and she was fast losing her eyesight. We had willingly taken on the responsibility of caring for her, and while that was in better times, the responsibility and the commitment still remained. I was trapped.

My life had become a treadmill again and the dream was shattered, because a dream was all it was, now I am in the real America where the only people who will ever prosper are rich, fat white men - possibly a requirement is blond hair and blue eyes. We are back in Nazi Germany - with people who don't match the exact specification being locked up in cages. Seriously, who would ever have believed that America would excuse kidnapping children and locking them up in cages! Who could have believed that America would stomp on refugees fleeing from war, poverty and torture. I do not want to be associated with the people here who think that is OK.

I can't even imagine the awful panic those children are experiencing. If they survive to grow old, they will never forget, and no doubt will relive it in times of stress. I hesitate to describe the small trauma I experienced when I was about 6 years old, because it was so small compared with what these children are going through. I was out shopping for back to school supplies with my mother and my siblings - as we walked along the busy city street suddenly I was on my own. I didn't know it, but my mother had turned into one of the stores and I had continued walking. I can still feel the panic deep inside of me that I felt when I suddenly realized I was on a strange street, surrounded by strange people, and I had no clue where my mother was. I was sure I would never see her again. What these poor children are experiencing is so much worse, I was free to run up and down the street and scream - and I did. There were people on the street prepared to help me - and they did. My terror only lasted for less than 5 minutes, as my mother realized I was missing and came out of the store looking for me. Who is going to help these poor forgotten children in cages?

I watch the poor becoming poorer and the rich becoming richer, education being chipped away at, health care becoming a privilege of the rich and a woman's right to choose being removed and put in the hands of those rich, fat, white men. I wonder, can this country ever recover from this? And will I ever feel the same about America? I don't think so. Now that I know how much hatred, racism and greed exists all around me, I want to leave, never to return.

As the 2020 elections approach, even with the impeachment hearing in progress, the same fears fill my head. I don't trust the processes in place to protect the American people from such a criminal and self serving administration; they are just processes with no real power to do anything but point fingers and attach labels. Tyrants and dictators cannot be controlled by being labeled and children cannot be reunited with their parents by pointless processes devised hundreds of years ago for a totally different time and circumstance.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A foreigner in 'the world'

Before I start, let me be clear that in this discussion, when I refer to Americans I mean those Americans from the United States of America. I also freely accept that there are exceptions.

Americans have no idea how difficult it is to be a foreigner in America. Actually, the problem is that they really do think that America is the world, they don't realize that different cultures and habits exist outside their world. Anyone over a certain age, who comes to to this country has to forever deal with the fact that they will frequently be seen by Americans as somewhat stupid because they do not speak the same way or have the same local knowledge as Americans have.

Over the 25+ years that I have lived here, I mostly tolerate being teased for my accent or the words that Americans fondly assume I am misusing just because they are different; and laughed at for not knowing local or even statewide general knowledge or even considered weird because I never heard of some fondly remember TV series from years ago.  But just sometimes it really irritates the hell out of me. It goes along with the 'world series' which consists of American baseball teams playing an American game, in America.  The world champion race horse that was the champion in the US and had never raced outside the US; and all the other 'world' events that were what Americans consider to be the world.

It didn't take me long to establish that the majority of Americans never left their own State, let alone their country. After all, to be fair, it is a huge country - but the world out there is bigger, and there are so many diverse cultures, way older, than the US - it is sometimes hard to be treated like I am the half wit and they know everything. Yet I have traveled to so many different places, eaten their food, been enthralled by their architecture and culture; sometimes, just sometimes I feel that is was a big mistake to think I could come to this country and find a place where I would be accepted and comfortable. As I get older, returning to where I am most accepted becomes more appealing.

Read this very old blog entry to see some of what I mean about language differences.