Economic downturn hits Hawaii senior citizens

Leona Pereza
Leona Pereza

By Leland Kim - bio | email

KAILUA (KHNL) - These tough economic times are filled with stories of hardship and struggle. Tuesday, we profile an Oahu senior who hopes for congressional action to help safeguard her financial future as well as those of others.

Most of our adult lives, we save and invest, so we can enjoy our retirement years, but the rising cost of living and a volatile economy have forced Leona Pereza to come out of retirement to make ends meet.

Leona and Arnold Pereza have been married for 46 years, and started planning for their retirement in their 30's. Monday's historic stock market drop sank their hearts and their savings.

"I felt devastated," said Leona Pereza. "I felt as if the foundation was knocked out from under me and even today I feel like I'm still trying to recover."

They made all the right retirement moves.

"We worked hard. We set aside funds. We invested it," said Pereza. "And it just seem like with what happened, set us back 10 to 15 years of savings time."

That's why she is back in school at the age of 63, working on her master's in social work. Pereza had to take out student loans.

"The money that I've lost in the fallout was way more than I needed to pay for those student loans," she said. "I don't have that now."

As the Perezas see their savings falling and the cost of living climbing, their future is on their mind.

"If property tax was not 40 percent, will I be able to stay in this house?" asked Pereza. "And if I can't stay in this house, where am I going?"

The Perezas say the senior population often gets overlooked. And as health care and other unexpected expenses mount, they see their dream of retirement get further away.

"It's very sad that what we worked so hard to accomplish, had been, where I thought was here, is now out here," said Leona Pereza. "And if there is no bailout, we don't recover. I'll have to make some really tough decisions."

Tough decisions for them and millions of other senior citizens.

Only 20 percent of senior citizens have some sort of a pension plan. As our senior population grows, economists predict we'll see more and more people like Leona and Arnold Pereza who will have some really hard choices ahead.