Retired Marketing Executive Flips Burgers To Make Ends Meet

A managerial career in corporate America is supposed to provide enough of a cushion to last through retirement. But five years into the financial crisis, even workers who once earned six-digit salaries are seeking low-wage service jobs to make sure they stay afloat. As part of its series on the "Future of Retirement," Bloomberg News just profiled one such worker -- Tom Palome, who as a marketing executive worked for companies like Oral B. But at the age of 77, Palome now works part-time in low-paying service jobs making $10 an hour to demonstrate food for Sam's Club and $8 an hour flipping burgers for a golf club in Tampa, Florida.

"I earn in a week what I used to earn in an hour," he told Bloomberg.

Why does Palome need to work the low-paying jobs? According to the report, he hasn't had a major financial failing, but he has had to deal with a family crisis. Back in 1983, his wife Edna died in a car crash and so he was left to raise their three children on his own. He's also turned down offers for help; his children have said he could move in with him, but he said he preferred to remain independent.

Palome needs the work because his savings ran thin. The $90,000 he had in savings dropped to $40,000 after the financial crisis struck in 2008. "Longevity should be a blessing, but if you haven't planned for it, you're going to work much longer than you ever dreamed of doing," he told Bloomberg.

And his story is reflective of the larger trend in America in which workers from all wage brackets are staying on in the workforce as they both live longer and have fewer retirement savings to rely on. Here are the data points:
  • About 7.2 million Americans who were 65 and older were employed last year, a 67 percent increase from a decade ago, as AOL Jobs has also reported.
  • A 2011 survey by the AARP found that roughly half of the respondents between ages of 50 to 64 don't think they'll ever have enough money for their retirement.

Palome can point to some impressive accomplishments over the course of his marketing career. Back in the 70s, when he was a vice president of marketing for the pharmaceutical company, The Cooper Companies, he helped secure an endorsement for the Oral-B toothbrush from the U.S. Olympic Committee. Now he's tasked with less high-flying work. Working for Sam's Club, he's expected to sell two boxes of the crackers during his seven-hour shift. And as for his job making hamburgers at the Rogers Golf Club in Tampa, he mans the takeout counter, cash register and grill. But he doesn't see his trajectory in a negative light. "I tell people I demonstrate food and I do short-order cooking. I don't mind saying it. What's important is that I can work today," he told Bloomberg.

And his appreciation is understandable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the official unemployment rate for Americans 55 and over is 5.1 percent. But the true employment picture for older Americans is far more brutal. As AOL Jobs has reported, about 1.4 million Americans have been forced into early retirement during the financial crisis and so are left out of the official count.

Read the whole Bloomberg story here.

Know any older Americans who have reentered the workforce and have interesting stories? Share in the comments section below.
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