• Crystal, 62, has struggled to earn more money while lacking a college degree.
  • She anticipates having to work part-time in retirement to supplement Social Security.
  • She didn't always expect to be relying on her sole income, and her savings are minimal.

Crystal doesn't see herself enjoying her "golden years" anytime soon.

At 62 years old, Crystal — who requested her last name be withheld for privacy — envisions an ideal world where she could soon set her sights on a comfortable retirement and begin collecting Social Security with enough extra money in the bank to cover all of her expenses.

But that's not the situation she's found herself in. She's worked as an administrative assistant for nearly two decades and said she's barely making more now than she did when she started the job. Her lack of a college degree and the challenges older adults face in the labor market have made it difficult for her to find work elsewhere.

With inflation driving prices up for her basic goods, along with her health expenses and mortgage payments, she sees work — whether full or part-time — in her future.

"I've had the 401(k), but I put pretty much the minimum in it because I need my paycheck to survive," Crystal told Business Insider. "It's a one-income house here, so it's up to me, and there's no extra, really, to save for retirement. And I was always counting on Social Security, knowing I can't live on it only, but I just thought it would be more than what it's going to be."

Crystal has just over $70,000 in savings, according to documents verified by BI, and she anticipates getting around $1,200 a month in Social Security. That would barely be enough to cover her health insurance, she said — and while her mortgage payments on her townhouse are low, she has a ways to go before she will own the house free and clear.

Additionally, she didn't always know she would be relying on just her sole income to get by. Before she got divorced 19 years ago, Crystal said her then-husband was making good wages at his job, and while she was still working during that time, her earnings were "secondary income," used for day-to-day expenses like groceries.

Crystal's concerns are shared widely across her age group. A recent survey from AARP found that, among Americans aged 50 and above, one in five of them reported having no retirement savings — and over half of them don't think they'll have enough money to sustain them in retirement. Separately, a report from the Alliance for Lifetime Income's Retirement Income Institute found that over half of a cohort called "peak boomers," or those born between 1959 and 1964, have $250,000 or less in assets.

It means that a lot of them will primarily rely on Social Security — and the program is projected to no longer be able to pay out full benefits by 2035 unless Congress intervenes.

Crystal said that with all of her daily expenses, her finances are strained, and she doesn't think she'll ever be able to fully retire.

"We're all struggling with food and utilities. Bills are like $65 a month for water, about $80 to $100 for electricity and things like that," she said. "So I'm one of these people that walk around the supermarket with the calculator on my phone and keep track of each thing as I put it in the cart. It's a tight budget."

'It's scary out there'

It's not for a lack of trying. Crystal said that she's done just about all she could to earn more income — she sent out her résumé and filled out dozens of online applications and almost never heard back.

"With my age, I was just not attractive on paper, and not having a college degree was always a factor, too," Crystal said. "I could send out 200 applications and résumés and maybe get two calls and then not even be invited in for an interview."

According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of US Census Bureau data from 2022, 67.2% of adults 55 and older do not have a bachelor's degree. While some jobs, like Walmart, have removed degree requirements from their job postings, the physical demands of that type of work are often unsustainable for older adults.

"I go to the grocery store and I see several of the cashiers here are seniors, quite a bit older than me, and they look so uncomfortable," Crystal said. "I know they're struggling to stand on this concrete floor and bag groceries all day. You can tell they're not happy, but they need that extra money."

Other "peak boomers" have echoed Crystal's concerns. Diane Senffner, a 63-year-old, previously told BI that her age has made it especially challenging to find full-time work after losing her job during the pandemic, and her physical constraints limit what she can do.

"I just say to my friends as a cautionary tale, if you are my age and you have a job, you better stay with it, because nobody is hiring you," Senffner said.

With uncertainty surrounding the future of Social Security — and confusion regarding how much workers actually need to be saved up for retirement — Crystal said that all she can do is hope she'll have enough money to keep her afloat as she gets older.

"It's scary out there," she said. "I want to retire, but I feel like I'm never going to be able to."

Are you concerned about retirement, or have you found a way to prepare? Share your story with this reporter at [email protected].

Read the original article on Business Insider