Too many Americans struggle to make ends meet in their “golden years,” the lucky few relying on family who themselves are forced to sacrifice retirement savings to meet immediate financial needs.

We must plan for tomorrow, so our families can live for today.

By Gabriela Sandoval

My parents have been married for over 60 years. In November, on my 41st birthday, my father fell and broke his hip. At the hospital, my mother joked with the staff about having been there 41 years prior with her newborn baby and being there now with her “big baby,” my 81-year-old father.

My parents immigrated to the US from Mexico and settled in Santa Paula, CA 43 years ago. My father washed dishes and bussed tables for decades while my mom sewed details onto expensive lingerie for 2 cents apiece in a garment factory. Now retired, they live on a meager fixed income from Social Security and Supplemental Security Income and receive support from In Home Support Services. Minor disruptions can throw their precarious financial situation into disarray and my father’s fall has been significant; he required surgery, months of physical therapy, additional treatment for dementia, and residence in a nursing home.

My parents’ hard work and sacrifices laid the groundwork for me to access a job, 40 years later, that provides a decent salary, good benefits and job security. Now they need my support and I am at a loss trying to successfully negotiate the crossroads of financial security across our family’s three generations.

Like many working parents, I commit a significant amount of my income to childcare. In fact, one of every four days I work, goes to pay for after (public) school care so that I can continue to work. This limits significantly what I can save.

There is a feedback loop here: I am caught in the precarious role of providing the basics for my family — housing, food and childcare; helping my parents when they encounter the unexpected; paying off my student loan debt — a debt which will cost me four times what I borrowed in lifetime wealth; and securing my child’s future education. My own retirement shines like a beacon in a stormy sea, an unattainable yet imperative goal.

Perhaps what is most upsetting is that I am actually among the fortunate few able to support my parents’ endeavor to age in place and with dignity. A new report released this month by my organization, the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, and our partners at UCLA, the New School and Duke University, finds that only 15 percent of households with Mexican ancestry in Los Angeles have an IRA or private annuity.

Even more troubling is the finding that the typical household of Mexican ancestry in Los Angeles has zero liquid assets. They are the least likely to own a bank account and have financial savings. This makes planning for the long term future difficult at best and makes short term disruptions virtually inevitable. Many elders, like my parents, will have little in the way of family support in difficult financial times. By mid-century the Latino population will account for one third of Americans who work. It is in our country’s best interest to ensure that Latino/as can maximize their opportunities — in the form of good jobs, with benefits and vehicles that allow for short and long-term saving — to prepare for a financially secure retirement.

Colleagues often marvel at my passionate support for reforming policies and practices that can make sure we build for generations ahead: implementing Secure Choice both in California and nationally, advancing the important research behind the Elder Economic Security Index, and expanding Social Security. Simply taxing income beyond $118,500 could keep Social Security solvent for at least another 50 years.

Retirement security must matter to us all. This is a multigenerational issue that will impact your and my parents’ generation as well as your children and mine.

I shouldn’t have to worry that my father’s fall will affect my daughter’s access to higher education. My family should all be gratefully focused on his recovery.

Retirement security is a cornerstone for our families and communities — it impacts every generation. It is not a priority, it is the priority.

Gabriela Sandoval is Director of Research and Chief Economic Security Officer at Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Insight Center convenes the Closing the Racial Wealth Gap initiative focused on reforming policy and practice to transform our communities for generations ahead.
Learn more about the Insight Center’s special series on Retirement Security, supported by the Prudential Foundation, here.