"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Saturday, September 25, 2021

What Do They Do Now?

      The other day we got a phone call from one of our old neighbors back in New York. She's actually my wife's friend, but I was in the car so we were both on the phone.

     The neighbor -- I'll call her Amy -- asked how we were doing, wished B a happy belated birthday. Then she blurted out: "We just sold our house!"

     "Wow, congratulations!" we chorused. "So what are you going to do now?"

     The woman was bubbling over with enthusiasm. They'd sold their suburban three-bedroom in one day. They got full asking price, which was more than either one of them expected.

     It turns her her husband John had taken retirement back in January of this year. "I myself haven't given notice yet," Amy said. "But we're ready to retire."

     We said how happy we were for them. Then B asked, "So where are you going?"

     "Oh, we don't know yet," Amy replied. "We've been thinking about moving to Cape Cod. But maybe also South Carolina. And then there's always Pennsylvania."

     Amy had grown up in Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. She still has some family in the area. But they were also thinking farther afield.

     And then it dawned on me why she was calling us. She knew we had gone through the same retirement process that she and her husband were about to embark on. B and I had considered Cape Cod as a retirement home. We'd thought about South Carolina, since one of B's sons was already living there, with a new baby, our first grandchild.

     We had finally decided on Pennsylvania, partly because B has family in the area. It has a lower cost of living than New York or New Jersey. And it's not too far from our long-time home. (We were just there a couple of weeks ago, visiting old friends.)

     But here's what stopped us. We'd started looking for a place to retire a year or two before we sold our house. Then, as we'd planned, we spent a year living in a condo, while we continued our search and finally made a decision.

     But Amy and John? They've sold their house. The buyers want a November 1 closing. And as of right now they have no place to live. And do they realize that while they got top dollar on the sale of the house, they'll have to pay top dollar on any house they want to buy? Prices are high where we live in Pennsylvania. They're high in Cape Cod. They're high in South Carolina. My sister tells me they're absolutely ridiculous in Phoenix. Is there anyplace where house prices aren't out of sight?

     Also, do they realize that it takes at least a month to close on a house after they've agreed to buy it? Are they going to do like us, and rent for a year or two? If so, they have a major downsizing job in front of them.

     They have three kids. They are grown up and out on their own. But they've left a lot of the usual stuff in their parents' attic and basement. And by Amy's own admission, "I'm a bit of a packrat."

     All those questions are hanging out there. But we didn't want to rain on their parade. We're happy for them, if they're ready to retire and move to a more relaxed and perhaps less expensive area and settle down and enjoy life. But I think they're putting themselves pretty far out on a limb. They have a lot of work ahead of them, don't you think?

Saturday, September 18, 2021

10 Things the New Census Says About Seniors

      I was recently reading parts of my son's old American history textbook (I know, I do weird things). The last chapter pointed out that during the 1960s and 1970s, and even into the 1990s, the average age of Americans kept getting younger and younger.

     My, how things have changed! Today, due to decreasing fertility and increasing longevity, our country is getting older. In the ten years from 2008 through 2018 (according to the latest Profile of Older Americans) the 65-and-over population has increased from 38.8 million to 52.4 million people -- a 35% increase.

     That's the general trend. Here are some interesting details:

     1.  Today, older women outnumber older men in America by about 30 million to 24 million. That's because women live longer than men. At age 65 an American women has an average life expectancy of 20.7 years. An American male just 18.1 years.

     2.  In total, some 16% of Americans are 65 and over. But the U. S. has plenty of company. The population is aging on every continent in the world. Europe currently has the oldest population of all, with 18% of its population age 65 and over.

     3.  What are the oldest states? According to the U. S. Census Bureau, Maine is number 1, with 21.2% of its population in the 65-and-over group. Maine is followed by Florida (20.9%), West Virginia (20.5%), and Vermont (20.0%). The youngest state is Utah with only 11.4% of its population climbing into that cohort.

    4.  For perspective, the U. S. population as a whole increased 7.4% from 2010 to 2020. Four states have lost population: West Virginia, Illinois, Vermont and Connecticut. All the other states have gained, but some more than others. Because of population shifts, Texas is now slated to gain two congressional seats. North Carolina, Florida, Oregon, Montana and Colorado will each gain one. As an offset California will actually lose one representative. So will New York, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia. 

     5.  Some 69% of men age 65 and over are married, compared to 47% of women. So the complementary figure: just 21% of men live alone, compared to 34% of women who live by themselves.

     6.  Racial and ethnic minority populations have increased their share of the 65-and-over set, from 19% in 2008 to some 23% today. Still, the 65-and-over population is less diverse than the rest of the country. Three quarters of Americans age 65 and over are white, while 9% are African American, 8% Hispanic, 4% Asian. That compares to the general population where 62% are white, 17% Hispanic, 13% African American and 5% Asian.

     7.  The retired community is wealthier than the general population, due in large part to Social Security and other benefit programs. Only 9.7% of people 65 and over live below the poverty level, compared to some 15% of all Americans. 

     8.  There are at least 10 million Americans 65 and over who are still working. That represents about 23% of the men and 16% of women.

     9.  Historically speaking, the labor participation rate for older men declined steadily throughout the 20th century, sinking to just 16% by 1985. But since then the rate has gone back up -- now to 23%. For older women the working rate was below 10% for all of the 20th century. Since 2000 the rate has risen to 16%.

     10.  One last, but uncomfortable fact: Some 40% of men age 65 - 74 are obese (BMI of 30 or more) while even more older women (44%) are considered obese. 

     Whatever else may be true we know one thing. As time goes on, there will be more and more of us. Today, the U. S. boasts some 55 million people age 65 and over, and counting. By 2040 the figure will rise to 81 million and by 2060 some 95 million Americans will be collecting Social Security, relying on Medicare -- and blogging about their favorite activities, deepest concerns and most pressing issues.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

On Death's' Door

      I don't mean to scare anybody with the title. It's  just that we spent a week in Door County, Wisconsin. The county is named after the treacherous passage around the northern tip of the peninsula called Porte de Morts. 

Overlooking Green Bay

     The name refers back to a deadly raid in the 1600s by a group of Native Americans against a rival tribe. But later the name proved providential for Europeans since the passage became the site of scores of deadly shipwrecks suffered by French explorers and others who dared make the turn around the northern tip of the peninsula into the safety of Green Bay.

Fish Creek has a fairly large marina

     We were there as part of our trip to see my daughter and granddaughter, who live in Madison, and who were able to join us for a week of vacation. We were also attracted to the area because it's been called the Cape Cod of the Midwest. We love Cape Cod. So we figured we would love Door County.

We asked:  this boat came up the Hudson River and across the Erie Canal

     There are some similarities. Cape Cod is a peninsula east of Boston. Door County is a peninsula east of Green Bay. Both have modest populations in the winter, but are flooded with vacationers in the summer. A lot of people own second homes. We know a few New Yorkers who have vacation homes on Cape Cod, along with people from Connecticut and the Boston area.

Street in Fish Creek

     Cape Cod also has its share of retirees, including some friends who live in Falmouth. B and I even considered retiring to Cape Cod. But we finally decided that the winters are to long . . . which is what we hear about Door County as well.

A child's eye view of Lake Michigan

     Similarly, people from Milwaukee and Madison and other places around Wisconsin have vacation homes in Door County. But we were told the big crowds -- and big money -- come from Chicago, about a four-hour drive away.

An aid to sailors in Bailey's Harbor

     We stayed at a lodge in Bailey's Harbor on Lake Michigan, considered the "quiet side" of the peninsula. The more touristy side borders Green Bay where the water is warmer. There are more beaches on the bay. There's more shopping and things to do with the kids. And apparently the fishing is better. I don't fish. So I can't confirm that piece of advice.

Johnson's Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay ... that's real grass on the roof

     We found several nice restaurants in Sister Bay, Fish Creek and Egg Harbor, all with outdoor seating. We went to the beach, took a bike ride through Peninsula State Park, spent some time shopping for presents and souvenirs. But with a grandchild around (as many of you no doubt know) we spent most of our time on the playground running after a toddler.

Remember, we're in America's dairyland

     We drew the line at changing diapers. That's a parent's job, not a grandparent's responsibility. Don't you think?

A cove in Bailey's Harbor

     We're back home now. But we're planning a trip to the Massachusetts Cape Cod later in September -- to visit friends, eat lobsta and clam chowda, and maybe even go for a swim. The Cape can still be warm in September.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Journey Across the Water

     I never paid attention to the Great Lakes. I'm not even sure I could name all five of them. Can you?

     I spent most of my life in New York state, which borders Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, and I now live in Pennsylvania which also touches Lake Erie. But I have always lived downstate so the waters I see are not the Great Lakes, but Long Island Sound, the Atlantic Ocean, the Hudson and Delaware rivers.

     To be sure, I have spied Lake Michigan a few times, when I was in Chicago, and once I glimpsed Lake Erie from Buffalo. I've also seen Niagara Falls -- does that count? But the Great Lakes simply do not loom large in my mind.

     Until a couple of weeks ago. That's when we boarded a ferry to cross Lake Michigan. It turns out . . . those lakes are big!

Harbor in Muskegon, Mich.
   We left Muskegon, Mich. at 10:15 a.m., heading west, due to arrive in Milwaukee, Wis. at 11:45 a.m.. An hour-and-a-half voyage, I thought. But no, it's actually a 2-1/2-hour journey because of the time change, from Eastern time to Central time. And that's the high-speed ferry. The regular ferry takes four hours to make the crossing.

Ship docked in Muskegon

     It's about 90 miles across the lake, and you're out of sight of land for half the trip. It's a lot of water, which is why the Great Lakes are called an inland sea -- the largest group of freshwater lakes on earth, according to one source, containing 21% of the fresh water on the surface of the globe.

Michigan fishing boat

     The Great Lakes are subject to storms and rolling waves. But when we made the crossing the waters were calm. In case you're wondering, masks were required inside the rather spacious cabin, but not outside since the speed of the boat created a 30-40-mph wind in our face. 

Goodbye Muskegon

     But we knew we couldn't let complacency overtake us. After all, we were headed to Door County for a week's vacation. This region of Wisconsin is like a finger sticking out into Lake Michigan, with the lake to the east and Green Bay on the other side.

Open water

     The county is named from the French Porte des Morts, or Death's Door. The name refers back to a deadly raid in the 1600s by a group of Native Americans against a rival tribe. But later the name proved providential for Europeans since the passage became the site of scores of deadly shipwrecks suffered by French explorers and others who dared make the turn around the northern tip of the peninsula into the safety of Green Bay.

Land ho!

     According to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, in all at least 6,000 ships and 30,000 lives have been lost on the Great Lakes. Some historians say the numbers are even higher, as many as 25,000 ships in the course of the past 300 years.

Milwaukee skyline

     But as I said, the day we were on the lake the waters were calm, the sailing smooth, the trip offering a safe and pleasant morning. And so we continued on . . . to tempt the fates of Door County.