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African American Baby Boomers And Retirement

Cyd Hoskinson

Many Boomers nearing retirement find they've got a decision to make: do they quit?  Do they work a few more years? Or do they quit and get another job somewhere else?

The answers depend primarily on two main factors: health and savings. But for many African American Baby Boomers, the list of primary considerations may be longer.

There are an estimated 78 million Baby Boomers currently living in the United States, 9 million of which are African American. Those who haven’t already retired are inching ever closer to that day. 

Credit Cyd Hoskinson / WJCT

African American Baby Boomer Jackie Simmons, Sr. is the athletic director at Andrew Jackson High School. Simmons was born in Jacksonville in 1953 and has lived here all his life, except for the 4 years he spent at Fayetteville State College in North Carolina.

"I got my degree and came back to Jacksonville, and began teaching at Jackson High School in 1978. This is my 36th year here at Jackson," says Simmons.

Simmons's sons had been after him to retire for a while, but he'd always been able to resist. That changed earlier this year.

"I recently became ill in February and had to go to the hospital, and I was just blown away by the amount that it costs. And I've got insurance," he laughed. "But I'm 60. I can't get Social Security. I can't get Medicare. I'm going to have to pay for my insurance. How much is that going to cost? It is scary."

Simmons says he's got health insurance through his wife's job with the school system, but what happens when she retires? So, he's toying with the idea of getting a part-time job. Finding a job is one thing, he says - actually being hired is something different entirely.

"I don't know what else I can do. I may sub a little bit, I could do that. But that's the issue, you know? Who's going to train me to work another job, and am I going to have benefits, you know?"

Credit Cyd Hoskinson / WJCT

Simmons could find he’s got a brighter financial future than he thinks. Other African American Baby Boomers, however, may not be quite so fortunate.

The reasons range from failing to put aside enough money for retirement to being unable to work past retirement age to lack of education.

Dr. JeffriAnne Wilder, a professor of sociology at the University of North Florida, says the same black Baby Boomers who lived through the Jim Crow era and the turmoil of the Civil Rights movement often find they don’t have the skills to successfully navigate the vagaries of retirement.

"You know there are definitely racial gaps as far as access to technology," says Wilder. "And so African Americans in particular have less access to to computers and technology.  And even if they do have access to it, they're a lot more resistant to embrace all the different things that the technological advances have brought."

Plus, Wilder says, many African American Baby Boomers may still support their grown children, their grandchildren or other family members.

Wanting to or needing to provide for family members is not unique to black Boomers, however. A recent survey by Bank of America Merrill Lynch and the research firm Age Wave asked 6,300 Baby Boomers about their attitudes toward retirement. The survey found that, when it comes to family, most of the respondents thought retirement would give them them the opportunity to strengthen those ties. How they go about it seems to revolve around money:

  •  52% of parents said they expect to provide their adult children with some kind of support, whether it be education, financial, health care or housing.
  • 35% of the respondents said they expect to provide for their grandchildren.

As for Jackie Simmons, he says bring it on.
"I think I'm going to fish," he laughs. "I do have a boat I go out occasionally on. I think I'll probably go out more so on the boat now, once I retire. And I told my wife, 'well, we'll eat a lot of fish.' So I look just to retire and enjoy life, you know? I'm used to living without so I'll just lower my standards a little bit and enjoy life a lot more. "

Simmons last day on the job is June 7th.