Suncoast woman testifies before Congress about "retirement crisis"

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SARASOTA - Joanne Jacobsen went to Washington D.C. not on a vacation she might have once planned for her retirement, but as a witness who worries about how she'll pay her bills even as she keeps working. "We need relief," she told a U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing Wednesday. "This is life or death."

The hearing focused on the struggles of baby boomers like Jacobsen, 63, who thought they had the "three-legged stool" of Social Security, pension benefits, and private savings to stand on. Instead they have watched Social Security fail to keep up with living costs, companies alter or eliminate pensions, and the economic crash eat into their savings.

"Millions of people who are in the retirement years who are facing a retirement experience that is different than what they had expected for themselves," says Kathy Black, a professor of gerontology at USF Sarasota Manatee. "They are going to have to consider working longer, or not retiring at all."

That fits Jacobsen. She began planning her retirement in her 30s. She had a pension, a savings plan, and a goal to live her golden years in Florida. Now Jacobsen lives in Venice, but her dream of a comfortable retirement evaporated when a former employer eliminated health benefits connected to her pension.

"I think the fact that companies have walked away from pension obligations has opened everyone's eyes," says Richard Stern, a financial adviser at R.W. Baird and Company in Sarasota. People take on more responsibility for saving for their retirements, and even having to re-think how they view retirement. "Look out for yourself," Stern warns.