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Figuring Out How to Work Smarter

Yesterday I had reason to revisit the website of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, a worthy organization where I was a member for some years. Eventually they jacked up their dues so high that I felt I could no longer justify paying them—you probably get value received from $200 a year (plus, plus) if you live in New York, but those of us out here in the hinterlands miss out on much of the group’s benefits.

Nevertheless, I see they have a new refinement in place, a job bank purporting to connect prospective clients with members. As the pitch for membership observes, one or two assignments would more than pay for your dues.

On the other hand, I’ve never had much luck with freelance job banks. Someone’s always ready to underprice you. And given the East-Coast orientation of this outfit, I suspect most of the customers are based somewhere around New York and feel no interest in working with an obscure scribbler out in the Wild West. So, I’m not at all sure it’s worth rejoining.

Come next January, some better ways to earn more cash have gotta be in place. The Social Security earnings limitation will expire then—because I’ll reach so-called “full” retirement age in May, I can earn around $30,000 between January and May, and after that, as much as I can get anyone to pay me.

Truth is, if both of next fall’s classes make, I’ll exceed the earnings limit this year, too. It’s so low, you have to work at not making too much. So, in November or December, presumably I’ll have an entire Social Security check withheld, to be returned to me in much diminished form the following January. That will mean I’ll have to dig into my emergency fund to survive that month.

I’m going to have to find better ways to make money. Freelance editing is not what you’d call a lucrative endeavor. Blogging earns even less—with Funny now bouncing up the front page of the top 100 PF blogs, yesterday it earned all of 33 cents. That would give me a pay rate of about a 50 cents an hour. Clearly, if I’m going to keep blogging, I’m either going to have to come up with a better way to monetize the site or simply quit running ads on it and invest that energy in some other endeavor.

Teaching is bringing in some money, but it’s piddling. The school paid me $2,400 to design and build the online magazine writing course this summer, which sounds great until you figure how many hours I’ve put into it.

So far I’ve attended 15 hours of workshops and spent about 5 hours in other meetings plus about 10 hours in one-on-one training sessions. Over the past 9 weeks, I’ve probably spent, on average, 3 or 4 hours a day, five days a week, in front of my computer building the course, for a total of 27 to 36 hours. (As a practical matter, I work 7 days a week, but let’s err on the side of conservatism.) Drive time to the campus, all told, probably comes to about 5 hours. So what do we have?

15 + 5 + 10 + 36 + 5 = 71 hours
$2400 ÷ 71 = $33.80/hour

Just about what I was earning by the hour at the Great Desert University…except the course isn’t finished. I still have to read god only knows how many hours of lecture into the audio function, and those lectures need to be accompanied by visuals, which I’ll have to concoct with my scanner and then mount online. Probably at least another 20 or 30 hours of prep time remain.

I should be thankful; at GDU all this prep work would be done for free.

Still, it’s far from enough to live on.

Freelance editing brings in about $250 a month, except on the rare occasion when some random client pops up.

Blogging has dropped off from about $200 to about $150 a month.

So, what can I do to “work smarter”?

Foremost on the list: get a job. I’m going to have to start looking for paid work that produces a regular income, to start in January when the government will “allow” me to earn a middle-class living.

At my age, however, it is profoundly unlikely that anyone will hire me to do anything. Other options?

Teaching: Hustle more classes in the spring, preferably at better-paying institutions.

GDU pays a Ph.D. something over $3,000 per adjunct class. Two classes at GDU (the max they’ll hire adjuncts to teach) plus three classes at a community college would yield about $13,200 a semester. Five sections a semester amounts to a crushing workload, meaning I would have to stand down off all other paying work. Total gross would be $26,400; added to the Social Security, I’d earn $41,400, about $2,000 under the median household income in Arizona.

Another possibility: start now sending applications to schools out of state; an online course can be taught from anyplace, and I do have some impressive-sounding credentials. Pay would be very low.

Blogging: FaM is beginning to have some value as real estate. Try selling ads to companies, or selling editorial space to PR reps. Potential income: unknown. Probably not much.

Editorial work: Put more money and effort into hustling business. Try to target some corporations that might have money to hire editors for in-house publications. Potential income: same as above.

We’re brought back to job. I need to get a job. Too bad I’m too old for pole dancing.

Anybody got any other ideas? What can you do to make a steady, respectable living when you’re too old to get a job? And when no matter how qualified you are, 300 people, 299 of them younger than you, are applying for every opening in your field?

9 thoughts on “Figuring Out How to Work Smarter”

  1. Good questions all, and I’m not sure if there is an answer (outside of getting a housemate!). It’s hard to find employment for everybody and especially hard for people over the age of 50 unless you’re a petroleum engineer or in some other very rare field that doesn’t have enough experienced younger boomers.

    One question I did have… Even though they’ll take away money if you go over the earnings limit, won’t they give it back to you later? I thought it was actuarially adjusted, so if you’ve got some savings to draw down to get you over the blip (and replenish later) won’t you be better off earning more? And if so, do they do it with a lump sum or with higher paychecks later?

    I know I should understand this, but you’re the first person I’ve seen actually in this hole in practice… most people I know don’t have the opportunity to go over the early retirement limits before full retirement age if they’ve taken early retirement.

  2. No inspired suggestions for jobs here – being unfamiliar with your specific abilities or the job market where you are. Where I live, the unemployment rate is at 15% – I know nationally its around 10. But if you’re really needing something that would pay around $6000 per month, I think that’s way beyond any random suggestions you’ll get from your blog readers.

    I don’t know how much really successful blogs are supposed to be able to bring in, but perhaps you need to work on that side of the earnings?

    But I do want to weigh in that I have a 28 year old daughter who feels the opposite frustration with job searches. Lots of competition, increased these days by a lot of us old timers with more experience & maybe a greater desperation to land the position. I think anyone, regardless of age, feels the same pressure you do!

  3. @ Ellen: {sigh} The god’s truth is, that’s what retirement is for: So us old dinosaurs can get out of the way of the young hatchlings without having to die to make room for them. There’s a point where the society needs to have the older generation make room for the young adults coming up the pipeline. But with a depression on (and I’m sorry, but I don’t know any better word for what most of us are experiencing), people who would otherwise have quit their jobs two years ago are either clinging to what they have or scrabbling for new work.

    I actually had planned to retire somewhat before I was laid off. The crash of U-No-Who’s Economy put the eefus on that scheme. With $180,000 down the terlet, suddenly I knew I would need to stay in the traces until age 70. At least.

    If I had quit my job two years ago, one of two possible scenarios would have happened: a) my associate editor would have moved up into my job and then she would have hired a new associate editor to fill her position; or b) the university would have hired someone else (someone younger!) into my position and my associate editor would have started looking for a better job elsewhere. Either scenario would have meant better job opportunities for at least two young people.

    Thanks to Social Security, I really don’t need to earn $65,000 to gross what I was earning at the Great Desert University. Fifty thou would do the job. But thanks to penury, we see that I can live on a great deal less than what I once regarded as a fair wage, and so the reality is that about $30,000 or $35,000 would suffice. Obviously, I’d like to earn what my skills and experience are worth. But beggars can’t be choosers.

    @ Nicole: Yes, you do get the money back later. But when you need to buy groceries today, “later” doesn’t do you any good.

    From what I was told, as soon as SS gets wind of a recipient overrunning the earnings limit, a month’s Social Security check is withheld. The money to pay the 50% tax on the overrun is taken out of that, and then you get the rest of the money…but not until THE FOLLOWING JANUARY.

    Well, my overrun will be about $200. Losing a $980 payment for the sin of earning $200 more than the allowance is one helluva whack upside the head. Especially when I need that $980 to pay the bills! What teaching pays will not cover a month’s expenses, not by a long shot. I could manage if I just had to write a check for $100 on the $200 overrun. But to take an entire paycheck (which is what a Social Security check is: a paycheck) away from me when I need it to live on is just hideously punitive.

  4. I thought in a previous reply to someone you said you had some other savings and just did not want to draw it down. In this case I just don’t understand why you can’t take that $980 out of whatever savings that is (or even a home equity loan if you can get a low enough interest one) and pay it right back a year later. You wouldn’t actually be living off that savings, just deferring it for a year when it wouldn’t be earning much anyway.

  5. @ Nicole: That’s what I’ll have to do, clearly. But I don’t want to. Though $980 isn’t much, if the point of this exercise is to keep my retirement savings in investments in hope that they’ll recover some of the losses, it’s counterproductive to have to take the money out to live on.

    I’d be surprised if I could qualify for a home equity loan. The credit union, which holds the mortgage to the downtown house, made a loan modification at the time I lost my job. They know, therefore, that I’m financially stressed and would be crazy to give me even a penny more. Hmmmmm…. Come to think of it, we do know that were lending is concerned, bankers don’t always show signs of sanity… 😉

  6. No need to apologize for calling it a depression – that’s what Paul Krugman and Nouriel Roubini are calling it, too.

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