David Hendricks is planning on retiring…sometime in the near future. The 58-year-old business reporter and columnist has spent 35 years working for the San Antonio Express-News, writing on countless financial subjects. Consequently, reporting on the topic of retirement hits very close to home for Hendricks, especially since he still has a 17-year-old daughter he needs to put through college. With a sharp eye for the specific financial situations arising from the recession and the silver tsunami of the baby boomers retiring, Hendricks has used his business column as an outlet to highlight problems overlooked by major news organizations. Hendricks attended the June Retirement Issues 2011 program and has used the information obtained there to write several columns, with more in the works.
Why are you interested in the subject of retirement?
I’m 58 myself and retirement hopefully is in my picture. It’s a big issue for my generation, the baby boom generation. I wanted to get the thinking on and information on retirement issues and I felt like I could get some valuable education on the issue through the NPF program as well as column material. I have had four columns already printed.
What sorts of retirement stories have you done?
It emerged in June that the Obama administration wanted to allow employers to not pay their share of the Social Security tax. Employees this year are not contributing their 6.2 percent. I had earlier in the year criticized the employee tax break. There’s obviously a train wreck coming as the baby boomers retire and we try to finance Social Security, and I just find it incredible that people are not paying into the system.
One highlight of the summer program was a trip to the U.S Treasury, and they had a speaker, a pretty high official. One question from the group was about automatic IRAs, in which small business employers on their own could automatically enroll their employees into a savings program, say five percent of their paycheck, and have a financial institution manage the IRA for those workers. There’s legislation that was supposed to go in late in the summer to encourage and provide incentives for employers to do this. I went to Washington not knowing anything about this topic and I left, because of this [NPF] program, knowing a lot about them. So I wrote a column encouraging the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce to start these programs for their workers.
[The last] column was on how minorities are less likely to have employers with retirement savings plans and I was able to get a lead on some research from the [NPF] session in June that allowed me to substantiate that. Once again I appealed to the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce for employers to be more active and give their workers more of a chance for a retirement, including staging financial education classes.
As a business reporter, what retirement issues do you think are left along the wayside by the media?
One topic I zeroed in on is how little these employers are doing. They don’t do enough financial education at the workplace and too many of the small employers don’t offer any retirement savings plans at all. I don’t think that there’s enough press about how little prepared the U.S. workforce is to have a retirement. And also government workers are being threatened more by physical constraints at the local, state and federal level for their pension plan, which could increasingly become underfunded. I guess the overall story that’s being overlooked is how little educated the U.S. workforce is and how little employers are doing to rectify that.
Are those the sort of retirement angles you’re most interested in?
That’s sort of the umbrella angle that I’m looking at. Because I participated in this program, I’m better able to spot those pieces. My column is only 500 words. I can’t write a 525-word column that encompasses the overarching issues that involve retirement. I have to address it in small parts.
With Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block, how do you see seniors dealing with the cost of living?
I think Social Security would be a terrible thing to cut, but Social Security was never meant to be the sole source of people’s retirement. A lot of workers don’t understand that they need to supplement Social Security, otherwise they’re not going to be able to retire. If the company doesn’t have a pension, if they have to do an IRA, if they don’t have a 401k, they need to save and invest as they go along and they need to start doing it in their mid-20s. If people don’t start in their 20s they’re eliminating their chances for a decent retirement. As far as government policy and Social Security, there’s no way benefits are going up, not with the baby boomers going through and draining the surpluses that weren’t really there to begin with. The big debate now is how to reduce costs, either by raising the retirement age or reducing the benefits for the generations that follow the baby boomer generation.
You did a story on scams targeted at seniors. How often do these scams happen?
I did call the San Antonio Police Department for statistics for crimes targeted at seniors and they had statistics by crime, but they didn’t have statistics broken down by age. That’s one of the problems with senior scams, is that law enforcement agencies are not keeping statistics to bring out the true size of this problem. But everyone agrees that it is a big problem. I got a bigger reader response than I expected on that story.
How do these guys operate?
They go to the door and they see something, like the house needs painted, roof needs patched or something and they offer to do that at a reasonable price, but then point out other defects in the house and charge above market price for those. They also have access to the house and literally steal things, like check books and credit cards. They also take payments by check and add zeros to the amount.
What do scam victims do after losing their money? Do they have anywhere to turn?
The only thing that seniors can do is turn to the police department. The sad thing is that a lot of them are too embarrassed to even report it so there’s no way to even know how much this happens. It’s up to the grown children to keep an eye on what their parents are doing and who they’re doing business with.
Do you think social media sites play a role in these scams?
Yes I do. But again there’s a problem collecting data on that. That’s only one of the negatives of social media, is people willing to post about themselves up for the whole world to see.
Do you plan to report more on retirement?
One I have in the can is about programs that help workers in their fifties who lose their job because of a bad economy and possible career paths for them, including going into the non-profit sector, which is looking for people who have work experience, and [parts of] the for-profit sector that would be valuable to the non-profit sector.
Do you think you have a different perspective on retirement because you’re almost there yourself?
Yes, because a lot of people are going to face the same things I’m going to be facing. I have a 17-year-old daughter I have to put through college and I’m not going to be able to retire until I get her college paid for. I’ve also been saving since my daughter was born and it’s not enough. So I’m going to have to juggle things in the coming years. I’ll be going through a lot of the same issues my readers will.
One thing I have seen that scares me quite a bit is all this talk about people who have a certain amount of material assets will receive less in Social Security benefits. I’ve seen some people who sacrificed their entire career to contribute to an IRA or 401k and because people did what the government wanted them to do, they will be punished. That’s something I’ve written about over the years and will continue to do so. I’ve seen people who have taken really great vacations and bought really nice cars but haven’t saved for retirement, whereas people like me who started saving regularly and sacrificed those types of things throughout their careers so that they could have a nest egg might see their Social Security reduced or eliminated, and that would be infuriating.
Earlier Blog Posts
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