Meanwhile, Americans have mixed assessments of how the aging workforce affects workers: 39% think people staying in the workforce longer is mostly a good thing for American workers, while 29% think it’s more a bad thing and 30% say it makes no difference. A somewhat higher share, 45%, thinks it has a positive effect on the U.S. economy. Working Americans who are 50 and older think the trend is more positive than negative for their own careers – 42% to 15%. Those younger than 50 are about as likely to say it’s good for their careers as to say it’s bad. Just 6% of fully retired AP-NORC poll respondents said they left the labor market before turning 50. But remaining in the workforce may be unrealistic for people dealing with unexpected illness or injuries. For them, high medical bills and a lack of savings loom large over day-to-day expenditures. “People like me, who are average, everyday working people, can have something catastrophic happen, and we lose everything because of medical bills,” says Larry Zarzecki, a former Maryland police officer who stopped working in his 40s after developing a resting tremor in his right hand and a series of cognitive and physical symptoms he at times found difficult to articulate. At 47, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Now 57 and living in Baltimore, Zarzecki says he has learned “to take from Peter and give to Paul, per se, to help make ends meet.” Zarzecki has since helped found Movement Disorder Education and Exercise, a nonprofit organization that offers support and treatment programs to those with similar diseases and certain traumatic brain injuries. He has also helped lobby state and national lawmakers to address rising prescription drug prices. He receives a pension and health insurance through the state, but he spends more than $3,000 each year out of pocket on medications.
“I can’t afford, nor will my insurance cover, the most modern medication there is for Parkinson’s,” he says. “Eat, heat or treat. These are decisions that people in my position have to make. When it’s cold out, or if it’s real hot out, do you eat, heat (your home) or treat (your ailment)?”