Rural Layoffs: Losing A Grip On Retirement As manufacturing plants leave rural towns, many workers close to retirement are left with diminished retirement savings and few options for new work. Randy Badman, 60, of DeWitt, Neb., was laid off three times in four years — and isn't sure how he'll fund his eventual retirement.
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Rural Layoffs: Losing A Grip On Retirement

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Rural Layoffs: Losing A Grip On Retirement

Rural Layoffs: Losing A Grip On Retirement

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Yesterday, we told you about some Iowa farmers close to retirement who are weathering the recession well.

Well, today, we go into town to rural DeWitt, Nebraska.

NPR's Howard Berkes introduces us to another side of rural retirement - an unemployed 60-year-old factory worker.

HOWARD BERKES: It's just a four-block walk from Randy Badman's house, past the grain elevator and railroad tracks, to the cavernous metal building on Main Street where he spent more than three decades at work.

Mr. RANDY BADMAN: It brings back a lot of memories here and I remember riding a bicycle and parking it right beside, walking right in and going to work. And then, I remember parking a motorcycle there. Planned on retiring here, yeah. A lot of us that got laid off did.

BERKES: The layoff was four years ago when IRWIN Industrial Tools downsized the plant that had been making Vise-Grip locking pliers in Nebraska since the Great Depression.

Vise-Grips were invented in a blacksmith shop down the street, and the tool brought more jobs to DeWitt than it had people to fill them. The last 300 workers were let go in October when the tool making moved to China.

By then, Randy Badman had already found and worked two other manufacturing jobs and both ended in layoffs.

What have you been doing since?

Mr. BADMAN: Looking for another job. And right now, the job market, especially in manufacturing, is extremely difficult to find a job.

BERKES: How has all this affected your retirement plans?

Mr. BADMAN: It changed them, obviously. Some of the plans that you have for retiring, you just have to set them aside because right now, everything is up in the air.

BERKES: Badman is 60 years old and was hoping to retire in the next five years. But his retirement savings are down 40 percent, and he needs to work just to get to retirement.

Mr. BADMAN: You know, to live for eight months - no income, losing half your income, if you have any kinds of savings you tend to use those up. You know, and then it happened again to you, you use up what you've got, you get to the point where you don't have anything anymore. And that's kind of a scary feeling.

BERKES: We talk in a sunny meeting room at the DeWitt Village Office, where Badman chairs the village board, a job that pays about $92 a month. His wife, Marge, works part time.

Mr. BADMAN: That's why the panic button hasn't been pushed just yet, because she's bringing in some money there also.

BERKES: Badman was a tool shop supervisor - a skill perfect for the manufacturing plants that provided plenty of work in rural places. But downsizing and shutdowns that preceded the recession continue, says economist Ernie Goss at Creighton University.

Professor ERNIE GOSS (Economist, Creighton University): Small manufacturers have really been hit hard by this economic downturn. And they have done some outsource and moved offshore, moved to other countries, and that's really affecting the rural areas.

BERKES: The need to continue to work, Goss says, just to get to retirement will force some to leave their hometowns, adding to a tax and brain drain already plaguing rural America.

Prof. GOSS: If every one of those retirees could take a chunk of the infrastructure with them, that would not have to be paid for by those who remain, you'd be okay. But you've got schools, the sheriffs department, the county court clerk - all these are affected by this. It's not a small thing.

BERKES: And it's a concern in DeWitt, Nebraska, where Randy Badman is part of an effort to lure another company.

Mr. BADMAN: Right now is a difficult time with the economy. You know, all companies are cutting back.

BERKES: Badman vows to stay put as long as he can, as he searches for work.

(Soundbite of drilling)

BERKES: And he drills screws into new planks in the deck he's replacing behind his house, to relieve the stress of a life plan gone awry.

Mr. BADMAN: Timing is everything in life, isn't it? Sometimes, you have good timing and sometimes, you have my timing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

You know, and right now, my timing is not too good.

(Soundbite of drilling)

BERKES: Randy Badman still hopes he can retire in DeWitt, Nebraska, where he was born and raised and worked 36 years.

Howard Berkes, NPR News.

SIEGEL: The story of the Vise-Grip tool and its invention in DeWitt, Nebraska is at, along with other stories in our Rethinking Retirement series.

Tomorrow, we'll answer some of your questions about retirement.

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