Ray Suarez on that “Sinking Feeling”

Ray_SuarezRay Suarez, who many will know from his years at the PBS News Hour, reflects on how the coronavirus is affecting him and other men over 55 who are nearing retirement.

Here is a taste of his piece at the website of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project:

For me, the financial strain arrived quickly. As my COBRA health coverage reached its time limit, my wife and I had a long talk about how to lower our enormous monthly health-care costs. One quick fix was to drop dental coverage, so we did it. Two weeks later, I was riding my bike on D.C. streets when I hit an enormous, and unexpectedly deep, pothole. The shock slammed my jaw shut, but I shook it off and continued to pedal. Then the pain began — first searing, then a steady, throbbing ache radiating from my jaw to my eyes to the top of my head. It felt like my teeth were misaligned. I was having trouble chewing food. In just a few weeks I had moved from being a guy who had top-drawer health coverage to being one of the guys I read about, one of the guys I covered, who deferred health care for fear of the cost.

The pain eventually subsided, but the complications that allowed it to persist are still with me. I am years away from what I had thought of as the age when I could transition to part-time work. I have worked hard to avoid raiding my retirement savings to cover current expenses. Home repairs I would have had done without a second thought have to wait until there’s money: The front steps need to be re-mortared and reset. A dying tree in the yard needs to be cut down and carted away.

These past few weeks indicate that I’ll soon have plenty of company. Take the predicament of men my age at a time of 3.7 percent unemployment and add the army of people now filing unemployment claims — 4.4 million in one recent week alone. It’s unclear at the moment just what federal and state government emergency programs will do for millions of self-employed and gig economy workers, many already hustling in the best of times, who’ve been watching their work dry up and disappear.

If my own experiences are any indication, what comes next for many of them is insecurity about self-worth, status and place in the world. My name appears on mailing lists from my days as the old me. I’m asked to make generous contributions to organizations for which I had written big checks in the past; today, that’s out of the question. I feel sheepish talking publicly about all this, because I know how many live a lot closer to the edge than I do. But I’m not whining when I say my life is different now. Even before social distancing rendered the outside world strange, I would do a walk-through at the supermarket with my wife’s list in hand, to see if items close enough to what was specified were on sale. A pair of old shoes is resoled for a second time instead of being replaced. There will be no vacations for my family when this crisis ends.

Read the entire piece here.