person putting coin in a piggy bank

Are we prepared for the sobering ‘compounding effect’?

I turn 59 this year, so it is fitting that my reading of late has been around the topic of financial planning for retirement.

Granted I have – and I hope you have, as well — been “planning” for retirement since I began work in 1986. And I still have some years and fuel in the tank before official “retirement.” But two recent articles – one dealing with Social Security and the other with 401K savings – mentioned the term “the compounding effect.” That is, the effect of time, money and interest rates to grow a savings account exponentially.

Unfortunately, this same concept of compounding works against us, as well. And, herein, lies my plea in this blog entry.

For a good decade-and-a-half now, we Americans have been lulled to sleep by what some may argue have been artificially low interest rates. Ever since the Great Recession circa 2008-09, we’ve enjoyed historically low interest rates (both in borrowing and savings) – that is, up to the pandemic of 2020. Since 2020, a number of factors have collided to create nearly 40-year high inflation. Arguably, a major factor contributing to inflation has been the ability – or, rather, inability – to attract and retain a workforce without generous wage hikes. In our aging services world, well over half the costs of delivering services resides in labor and labor-related expenses. So, in order to raise wages, providers must raise fees charged for their rendered services, thus unleashing, unfortunately, a vicious cycle of ever-increasing cost of care for which I see no short-term end in sight.

Now, allow me to re-introduce the term “compounding effect” and how it works in the reciprocal.

That same compounding effect works against us on prices or fees for goods and services.  Here’s how: Let’s say, for instance, that for the next several years providers of aging services are forced to raise rates by 5 percent annually. For those of us around 60, let’s play that out over several years to a time we might begin availing ourselves of aging services – say, at age 78. For illustrative purposes let’s say the current monthly service fee a retiree would pay to move into a retirement community is $4,000 a month. And now let’s add in the “compounding effect” of 5 percent 18 years from now. 

The result is a whopping $10,800 per month, or well more than double the cost today.   

I’ll admit this is a fairly aggressive interest rate assumption. I suspect (and let us all hope) it’s a tad on the high side. But I would bet it’s not too far removed. Why? For one, demographics. A lot more Americans are aging, and there are far fewer to care for them at current wage rates.  This trend will not change in the short to intermediate term. On the bright side, however, that same compounding effect, while working against us on costs, should work in our favor on the amount of interest we earn on our savings accounts. However, as I write this blog, much uncertainty exists regarding where to place our excess cash in order to earn that higher interest rate.

It should be noted that I am not a financial advisor nor is this blog intended to convey financial advice. My intention is to point out the long-term effects of inflation – not just today at the grocery store, but much further from now. When we’ll need care. 

Are we prepared?

This ‘impending’ crisis is here, it’s real … and it’s going to get worse

We knew it was going to happen. We knew the reasons why it was going to happen. But we had no idea it was going to happen now.

What in the world am I talking about? I’m talking about a labor crisis of unprecedented proportion. The Western world is caught in a perfect storm in which an aging populace, lower overall birth rates, shifts in work/life patterns and immigration policies have collided to create labor shortages and service disruptions.  

It’s here, it’s real and it’s going to get worse.

Take, for example, the world of aging services, where recent surveys by both LeadingAge and the investment banking firm Ziegler and Company revealed over half of the responding providers reported having to either deny services, defer services or shut down portions of their operations due to labor shortages. In many other cases, providers have had to turn to temporary “agency” staffing to meet their clients’ needs. While these agency personnel fill a vital role, there is little doubt that continuity of care, familiarity of clients and provider-based training are all at risk when providers find it necessary to turn to agency staffing. Today, in many markets, this is the norm rather than the exception. But, hey – we’ve been down this road before, right? During past times of economic prosperity and low unemployment, we’ve seen labor shortages, right?  Yes, but not to the extent of what we are witnessing today – actual service disruption.

Last weekend my wife and I were at popular destination in the North Carolina mountains, we stayed overnight at a well-known, respected brand hotel. Checking in that afternoon, we were given the option of taking a handicap-accessible room or waiting for another one to be cleaned.  Later that night after returning from dinner, I noticed a housekeeping cart in the hallway – cleaning rooms at 9 p.m.!  They simply didn’t have enough staff. Then on Saturday morning, we went to a local breakfast spot at 9:15 a.m. only to be greeted by a nice young lady at the door who offered her apologies, but stated the restaurant is “closing early” due to some “problems in the kitchen” (translation: not enough production staff). After relating this experience to a local resident, they informed me about another restaurant in town that had to limit the days they operated due to an ongoing staff shortage. This is prime tourist season for these establishments! Days of lost revenue at this time of year can – and, unfortunately, most likely will – break them.

Service disruption is here, and we’ll only see it increase in the days, months and years to come.

What does all this mean for the person on the street? The basic economic law of supply and demand dictates that as the demand increases for the limited supply of labor, wages are sure to rise. As wages increase, so does pricing for the consumer And as services become scare because of the limited input of labor needed to deliver the service – well, you get the picture. Bottom line: Getting care as you grow older will cost you more. Lots more.

If you can find it.

This unprecedented time of concurrent rising costs and numbers of older adults, coupled with limited availability and all but the slightest hope of a federal policy to pay for long-term services and supports, is exacerbated by stalled efforts to reform immigration. Speaking solely as an aging services professional, immigration – while not the holy grail to our labor problems – is an essential part of the equation in solving our current labor shortages. We must work to find bi-partisan solutions that allow immigrants into our nation to help care for our older citizens.

The time to act is beyond now. The labor crisis is here. And it’s only getting started.

Why the ‘hotel lifestyle’ is not all it’s hyped to be for older adults

Recently, a news story originating in Texas caught the attention of many and lit up social media. ABC News spotlighted a 64-year-old gentleman who “planned to live out his golden years” at a Holiday Inn, thus, by his reasoning, finding a better, more affordable alternative to assisted living.

Facebook users quickly shared the post with comments such as, “Sounds like a good plan!” and “Not a bad idea!” and “It’s cheaper and a lot nicer than most nursing homes.”

Think again.

When seeking a life plan community, third-party reviews can provide critical insight

Have you ever been in a hurry for a service or a restaurant recommendation? Where’s the first place you turn to these days? The internet! Yes, I do it all the time myself, especially when I need to find an out-of-town restaurant or have a major appliance repaired at my home.

Sometimes you can find out a lot about the organization in question and sometimes not. I’ll often check out customer reviews posted on a variety of sites to learn more about real-life experiences. Reviews posted on the internet are from actual users of the service, so most times I think they are good indicators of the quality I’d receive. But did you know some of these reviews are purposely “hyped” by friends of the company or owner? And yes, some of the ratings are very low, based on one person’s experience that occasion – maybe they had a bad server, or perhaps they had to wait longer than they thought they should. Whatever the case, personal ratings must be taken with discretion.

Thankfully, continuing care retirement communities – better known now as life plan communities – have multiple third parties looking over their shoulders to help consumers discern the good from the not-as-good.

Should Pharmaceutical Prices Be Left to the Marketplace?

Among the several reports I receive as CEO of The Well•Spring Group is a monthly summary detailing our organization’s expenditures for staff members’ health care costs. This report breaks down expenditures between payments to providers of direct care and pharmaceutical/prescription drug payments.

As I regularly monitor this report, I am taken aback by an emerging trend. Our pharmaceutical costs are now equal to – or in excess of – payments we make to providers each month. I suspect readers of this blog can relate through their personal experience in purchasing prescribed medication.

Clearly, pharmaceutical pricing is out of control.

‘If We Do Not Act, We Are Writing Our Own Epitaph’ 

In my role as chair of the national board of LeadingAge, I made the following comments at LeadingAge’s PEAK Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., on March 19.

Welcome to D.C., everyone! It’s great to see so many of you for the first time since we gathered for the annual meeting in New Orleans. In fact, for this year’s PEAK conference we have about 1000 registrants.

And I’m glad several hundred of us are planning to “take Capitol Hill” on Wednesday. This is important … critically important. As you know, a lot has happened since we were together in the Big Easy. These times in our field are definitely big, but certainly not easy.

Five months ago, we said that advocacy would be the Number One priority for our LeadingAge board. And that makes PEAK the most important meeting of our Association year. This PEAK is going to be different however, and it has to be. In the past, we were “one and done” when it came to work after our Capital Hill visits.

But not this year.

Aging Is Still Not in Vogue. Why?

Here we are fresh off the Super Bowl, the State of the Union address and rebuttal speech, the Grammys and any number of other national events . . . and yet we haven’t heard a word about the issues facing today’s (and tomorrow’s) older adults. Well, I take that back — a Super Bowl ad did a tongue-in-cheek take on older adults having to work to make ends meet in their later years. But even this was more of an ageist attempt at making fun of a very serious issue.

Yes, aging is still not in vogue.

Dear Elected Officials: Thank You . . . And

Dear Elected Officials:

Thank you for maintaining the medical deduction possibility for America’s older adults as part of the Tax Reform Act of 2017.  In addition, thank you for maintaining the private, tax-exempt financing mechanism for not-for-profit providers of services to older adults.  Without this financing option, the ability for not-for-profit service providers to grow to meet the demands of an ever-increasing older adult population would have been seriously curtailed.

On a more cautionary note, I reiterate my previous letter focused on concerns about long-term revenue generation, especially considering the anticipated needs of this increasing and unprecedented population of older adults.  To provide the American worker with short-term gain only for it to be taken away from programs they will rely upon later is short-sighted, at best.

An Open Letter to Lawmakers: Seems Like A Recipe for Disaster, To Me

Dear Elected Official:

Singer Andy Williams performed what I believe was the best version of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” But even Andy would find it difficult to identify anything wonderful about the planned Tax Reform Act of 2017, especially since he, too, made it to older adulthood.

I, like most Americans, would agree that the current tax code is cumbersome, tends to favor the wealthiest of the wealthy, and is at its core antiquated. However, to reform it at the cost of damaging a whole segment of American society is unnecessary … and is flat-out the wrong thing to do. 

At Thanksgiving, Let’s Remember That the Blessing of Loving Caregivers Cannot Be Overstated

As we are staring at Thanksgiving eve, I hope you will pardon me as I take this blog in a more personal direction.

We lost my mother-in-law, Marie Wilson, two weeks ago as she ended her earthly journey and crossed the bridge into the eternal. She died peacefully in her sleep, in her bed, in her assisted living apartment at Well•Spring, A Life Plan Community, where she had been a resident for the past three years. Anne’s mother had been a big part of our lives, especially over the last eight years as Anne served as her primary caregiver. So the shock of a death in the night stung.

But after two weeks, I think I can accurately reflect on what it means to receive the blessings of someone’s presence, opportunity and loving caregivers.