Stressing toward retirement is a dicey proposition

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By Hal Rhodes

The Los Angeles Times reported recently on a new study that almost certainly caused a lot of readers to chuckle and say, “Duh.”
It seems investigators have discovered that among the health benefits people experience following retirement is a marked reduction in mental and physical stress, according to the study published last week in the British Medical Journal.
Hello? How could it be otherwise? Name a job from which one might retire that doesn’t induce some measure of physical or mental stress, if not a bit of both.  
Indeed, simply having the wherewithal to sustain retirement these days is a stress reducer. Almost everyone knows somebody (or is somebody) who has put retirement plans on hold because those 401Ks they were nurturing tanked when the market went south.
We have been up to our eyeballs over the past few years in “expert” pronouncements about bursting “bubbles”— from the “Housing Bubble” to the “Wall Street Bubble.” Nor is it amiss to add the “Retirement Bubble” to the list.
What few have seen fit to do is put two and two together and acknowledge that  much of the economy we allowed slick money changers, speculators and hucksters to contrive for us over the past quarter of a century was, itself, nothing less than a “bubble.”
We are told time and again that many of those millions of jobs lost in this Great Recession will likely never return. Why? Because far too many of those jobs were themselves “bubbles” which, once burst, were found to be unnecessary or even superfluous.
Now some of the same architects of this bubbled economy are warning us to expect the whole shebang to come tumbling down if we don’t tighten our belts and do something about our annual budget deficits and staggering national debt. The president appointed a commission headed by a prominent Democrat and a prominent Republican who recently came forward with belt tightening prescriptions. Pete Domenici, one of New Mexico’s two living former Republican U.S. senators, is involved with another commission that is saying much the same thing.
And guess what? Among the belts most often in line for tightening are the nation’s principal retirement systems — Social Security, Medicare, the various state employees’ and teachers’ retirement programs, among others.  
It’s a big problem, no doubt about it. We’ve a dreadfully weak economy on our hands. There’s a  glut of Boomers retiring. And we have retirement benefits built into some of these systems which, although meritorious, were never paid for. Then-Sen. Domenici and the incoming U.S. House Speaker John Boehner were foremost among Republicans who added a jury-rigged prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program during the Bush II administration, only they financed with borrowed money and inevitably, added to the national debt.
 President Obama and the present Congress have begun the process of paying for that new benefit, but Social Security and Medicare are still targeted for major “reforms” that could result in upping the age for retirement and decreasing overall benefits under the system.
Meanwhile virtually every state employee and teacher retirement program in the nation is in distress.
Here in New Mexico the state Educational Retirement Board recently released proposals to shore up its program, which could require teachers and professors to pay a larger sum into that retirement program and perhaps delay retirement eligibility for as much as 10 years.
It’s worse elsewhere. In Kentucky the public employee retirement program is so shaky that the state is actually selling off investments in order to pay benefits.
With wolves at the door, can there be any wonder that folks are less stressed after they finally stagger across the retirement line?
Hal Rhodes
NM News Services