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A Tough Decision: Some Older Workers Face Retirement Early

Posted at 7:07 AM, Sep 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-15 07:07:53-04

LANSING, Mich. — For some the pandemic has meant a delayed retirement, but for others it's sped up their plans. Alexa Liacko shows us the big hurdle some soon-to-be retirees are having to overcome and why having all the answers before leaving a job isn't always possible.

At the end of summer, Christina Curfman would typically be rushing to prepare her second grade classroom.

"But this year, I started a garden. I’ve never planted vegetables my entire life, but my mom always had a garden, and i love it."

Her newfound happiness coming with just as much heartbreak.

"I submitted my retirement papers after 28 years in the classroom. I loved everything! I loved every part. For me, teaching was about the connection with kids and tying shoes and hugs and helping you with your hair, it was about those relationships."

But with COVID-19 threatening those precious relationships, Curfman was forced to consider going back to school. I had a student ask me “is this coronavirus going to kill us all?” and i was like oh my goodness, I’m not doing this anymore."

She knew her body couldn’t take the risk. "I have an autoimmune disorder. it’s similar to RA, so I have trouble walking. The medications that I take kind of lowers your immune system too.

On top of that, a few years ago, she spent weeks in the hospital for a blood clot in her lung. I was saying goodbye to friends and family. It looked pretty dire, it looked like i wasn’t going to make it, and i wasn’t willing to test that again.because losing her health would mean losing time with those she loves most.

"I’m a mom more than I’m anything else. I have to be able to look at them everyday and say, ‘I want to be here for you and I want to be there for the rest of your life as much as I can be."

Especially with her daughter’s wedding just months away. "I want to be there for her wedding, I’ve waited 30 years for this." So, she is stepping away from all she’s known.

"I’ve cried about it every single day and the financial hit of retiring early at 55", Curfman says, doesn’t help.

My retirement pension is $1000 a month, but my health care is $2000 a month, so I’m in the hole already trying to make up for that. It’s a huge financial decision, but in the end, you’re talking about your life at stake, so you have to make it work somehow.

Curfman is not alone in facing early retirement—the Brookings Institution estimates that between March and June, 2.9 million older workers lost their jobs because of COVID-19.

The National Bureau of Economic Research found the unemployment rate in April 2020 was 15.4% for workers 65 and older, compared to 13% for those 25 to 44 years old and older female workers are at higher risk of unemployment than men. (https://www.nber.org/papers/w27448)

Martin Baily, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution explains that "we’d sort of would like to see people working a bit longer, you get more out of social security, you don’t have to cover as many years with your retirement savings, and that’s been made much tougher because of COVID-19."

For Christina Curfman, the tough choice has come with an outpouring of support. "Its tradition at our school when you retire, everyone to fill out a scrapbook page of some retirement advice even if she wasn’t ready for the advice quite yet."

Time to enjoy your pool, your pets and the outdoors, oh people know me!! Look forward to the best days of your life, we will miss you.and she will feel a void that only the laughter of children can fill, but, Curfman keeps reminding herself of one thing.

It’s not the way i wanted it to end, certainly. I didn’t get to say goodbye to my class, I didn’t get to say goodbye to my fellow teachers, but that will come.

There is life beyond the classroom, and hopefully, I’ll get to enjoy that soon. It’s a horrible time, but, it’s a good time to find some other joy.

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