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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Retirement is not a time of joy or contentment for Puerto Rico’s seniors

The struggle to make pension money last until the end of the month by cutting back on basic needs is causing sadness and anxiety among many retirees in Puerto Rico, according to a new study.

By The Star Staff

While retirement should be a time of rest and reaping the fruits of a lifetime of work, a study by Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico (PUCPR) found that retirees on the island face precariousness and a continuous struggle to make ends meet with their meager pensions.

The struggle to make pension money last until the end of the month by reducing basic needs, causing sadness and anxiety among retirees.

The study carried out by PUCPR’s Observatory of Society, Governance and Public Policies sought to obtain an overview of the socioeconomic profile and perceptions of retired people. The research follows up on work developed in 2012 by Hernán A. Vera Rodríguez, director of the Observatory, on retirees in the southern and western regions of Puerto Rico. The most recent study led by Vera, who worked alongside Jennifer Castellanos Barreto, another researcher, had the support of the Alliance for Pensioner Health, the Puerto Rico Government Pensioners Association and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Puerto Rico chapter, which helped with data collection.

Vera said “the study results reinforce our 2012 findings that, for most surveyed, retirement is not a time of joy and rest, but rather a continuous struggle to make ends meet and cover basic needs.”

“In fact, one of the study’s main findings is that a segment of retirees has had to continue working to meet the expenses of their daily lives,” he said.

“This research gives us a clearer picture of the social, economic and emotional situation of retired people in the country at a time when the segment with the greatest population growth on the island is the elderly,” Vera continued. “This is particularly important given the reforms that have occurred and others being developed in the various retirement systems in the country. The research had a sample of 1,604 retired people and also analyzed the adjustments that retired people have had to make in their daily lives, the feeling of loneliness, their intention to return to work and the perception of retirees regarding the role of the government.”

Castellanos Barreto highlighted that the study generated a lot of interest in the population, being one of the fastest empirical investigations carried out by the Observatory.

“Between March and May 2023, approximately two and a half months, we attracted the interest of more than 4,000 people on the online platform,” she said. “In this sense, the study process was faster than expected, thanks to the acceptance and participation of retired people. We believe that the acceptance of the project reflects the need that people have to tell about the economic and emotional situation they are going through at the moment.”

Among the outstanding data from the research is that 75% of the retired people who responded are women, and the average age of the participants is 66 years. The vast majority (85%) have incomes ranging from $100 to $2,499 per month, and 75% of respondents say they have adjusted their basic expenses, including a dramatic reduction in their leisure activities, such as entertainment outings.

“A large segment of the retirees surveyed live in a precarious situation and 84% understand that the country’s economic situation has affected their finances,” Vera noted. “But beyond that, a quarter of the participants have seen their economic situation worsen after the pandemic, and a large segment of those surveyed claim to feel loneliness, sadness and perceive little social support. Retirement in Puerto Rico is not a time of joy, it is a time in which poverty is accentuated, especially among the female population.”

The Observatory’s director said economic precariousness during retirement is of such magnitude that 73% claimed to have made adjustments by buying cheaper foods to make their money last, and 53% said high healthcare costs affect their quality of life. A third of the participants indicated that they did not have savings. Although 66% said they had money saved, that group said the savings would not be enough to live on for more than a year. Retirees’ income comes mostly from Social Security and their pensions, and almost half (47%) have considered returning to work, the researchers highlighted.

Among the most relevant conclusions of the study, 56.3% say that the money they receive does not allow them to live comfortably, and 60% say that they do not trust that the government will do justice to retirees. Most retired people say that their life was more comfortable before retirement and that leaving the world of work has created economic hardship accompanied by sadness and worry in a time of vulnerability due to being older adults.

Regarding the researchers’ recommendations, Vera indicated that “[f]rom public policies, a continuous review of the pensions of Puerto Rican retirees is proposed, as well as possible contributory benefits for those pensioners who work after their retirement.”

“It is understood that they have already contributed significantly to the country during their lives,” Vera said. “Likewise, free or low-cost leisure opportunities available to retirees should be expanded, which could help improve their physical health and reduce their levels of sadness and social loneliness.”

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