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Comfortable Retirement?

By Greg Kozera - | Oct 13, 2021

I grew up in Pittsburgh. Most of my uncles worked in the steel mills. Many of my cousins chose not to go to college because they could make good money working in steel mills. They drove nice cars. I bought a Suzuki 90 motorcycle for $250. That was what I could afford and attend WVU. My Dad was a carpenter for the VA hospital. He didn’t make as much money as my uncles working in steel mills but he had job security. We didn’t have a lot of the physical things but we always had love and food to eat.

In the late 1960s and 1970s the steel mills began to close. My uncles and cousins were suddenly out of jobs. They were union steelworkers but that didn’t matter when a steel mill went out of business. Since the mill was out of business they lost the pensions they worked for years to earn. My uncles were in their 50s at the time. They weren’t old enough for social security. All found other jobs making less money than being a steelworker. As I recall, they told Dad they got $35 a month from the union. The only government assistance was welfare and that wasn’t very much. I have no idea how they paid rent, utilities and fed their families. The stress led to marriage problems and some cousins getting divorced. Some never saw a social security check before they died. Their dreams of a secure, comfortable retirement died with the steel industry.

My grandfather was more fortunate. He worked in Oakmont at a mill that made railroad wheels and industrial gears. He worked there for almost 50 years and retired at age 70. The mill operated until 2001 so Grandpap had a pension and social security until he died. All he knew was work and it had taken a toll on his body. Grandpap had a productive garden. His greatest joy in retirement seemed to be sitting on his front porch in his rocker watching us kids play baseball in the field across the street. I remember him saying, “Hit that ball.”

What I saw happen to my relatives is why I’m so passionate about the work of Shale Crescent USA to bring good jobs back to this region. Layoffs and unemployment are hard on families physically and emotionally. It was sad to see people’s dreams of a comfortable retirement after years of labor suddenly evaporate. Unfortunately, Dad died of a heart attack long before he could retire. I never got to see what retirement would have been like for him. Dad’s wisdom paid off for Mom and my youngest two brothers. They received payments from his pension until they were out of school. Mom had financial security until she died at 92.

The world has changed. People are living longer and are healthier. People 70+ years old are running marathons and half-marathons faster than I ever could when I was in my 30s and 40s. I was blessed to play soccer with 35-year old players into my 60s until I got injured. At a national soccer tournament our adult team played in, Japan sent a team with 60, 70- and 80-year-old players. They were fit. People routinely work productively into their 80s by choice. Their experience can be an asset. Age is really just a number. After my injury one doctor told me, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are too old for anything.”

Some people don’t want to fully retire. They have gifts and expertise they want to share. They also want more time to do things they couldn’t do working full time. A productive retirement requires financial security. Sadly, many seniors on fixed incomes must make tough choices between eating, heating and healthcare. Inflation and increasing energy costs like gasoline prices

up over $1 per gallon hurt. This is a major expense for retirees especially those wanting to travel. Increasing electric rates like we see in California and Europe that are double and triple what we pay here would impact everyone but even a $100 or $200 a month increase in electricity can devastate people on fixed incomes. The move to weather dependent energy sources in California, Europe and soon in Virginia directly impacts seniors and their ability to retire.

As people age diseases like diabetes and the need for increased health is common place. A productive retirement requires good health. Most health care products like prescription drugs, diabetic and other syringes, medical supplies and equipment like sleep machines and diabetic pumps are fossil fuel based. The war on fossil fuels will make them more expensive and limit supply. Medical equipment requires electricity. Insulin must be refrigerated. Proposing to fully replace 24/7/365 fuels like coal, natural gas and nuclear power with weather dependent energy sources like wind and solar guarantees blackouts and brownouts like California is having. It is a direct attack on seniors and the vulnerable. We are smarter than that.

As a high school coach, I understand the importance of team. The most successful teams have common goals everyone agrees on. They embrace diversity. We must embrace diversity of energy sources and find ways for them to work together efficiently. Our common goal should put people first. Fossil fuels are necessary to create the healthcare retirees and all of us need. Windmills, solar panels and electric cars are made from fossil fuels.

After a lifetime of labor people deserve the opportunity to retire as they see fit. Some may want to travel, fish, play golf, or spend time with grandkids. Others may change careers using their expertise to help others.

Good jobs create the opportunity and benefits for a financially secure retirement. People need dependable affordable electricity and health care products. It is time to reject a weather dependent electric grid and work together using all available energy sources for a commonsense solution. We can have affordable, dependable electricity and a clean environment.

All things are possible.