Market worries Mainers

Posted Sept. 30, 2008, at 9:59 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:18 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — People around retirement age are watching from the sidelines as their retirement investments ride the Wall Street roller coaster — and some of them are getting motion sickness.

“As of yesterday, I did have retirement savings,” Lynne Cooper of Bangor joked Tuesday afternoon, the day after the stock market plummeted 778 points.

Cooper, who works for a law firm and gave her age as “over 50,” had just bought a copy of The Wall Street Journal.

She has been paying close attention to the financial news and said she doesn’t know when she’ll be able to retire.

“We were joking in the office that we’ll be here until we’re 110,” she said. “If you’re over 50, you don’t have that time to recoup your losses.”

Participation in the stock markets is at, or nearly at, an all-time high for Americans, said University of Maine economist Michael Montgomery.

“We are all connected now. We all have retirement and pension accounts,” he said Tuesday. “We’re all suffering these declines as they kick in.”

Even for investors who are practiced at looking at the long-term future of the markets, it’s not easy to remain sanguine.

Ency Whitehill, 64, of Orono is a member of the Better Investing Group and studies stocks carefully.

“We’re long-range investors. This too shall pass,” she said.

But Whitehill and her husband, Jim White, also recently retired from their jobs — she from the University of Maine, he from the Center Drive School in Orrington, where he was the principal. Now they live on a fixed retirement income, and lately they’ve been economizing.

“We’ve been cutting back and cutting back,” she said. “You don’t go on as many trips. You eat out less. You do fewer things that you would like to do.”

Whitehill said that she thinks politicians and Wall Street have let Americans down.

“One could see this mortgage problem coming five, six years ago, but because nobody was regulating, it was one of the huge problems,” she said. “I really think all financial institutions should be regulated.”

Gordana Hassett of Castine, who works as a clinical social worker in Bangor, said that she’s most concerned about the Mainers who live on the margins of society.

“I think this has added an even greater level of uncertainty to what people were feeling already,” she said. “Now you have retirees coming into the workplace. There’s more competition for low-paying jobs.”

Jon Davis of Lusby, Md., and Tim Nestor of Narragansett, R.I., were in downtown Bangor on Tuesday marveling at Maine’s comparatively cheap real estate prices. The friends had just finished a weeklong canoe trip in the Allagash and they joked that maybe they would take advantage of the prices by retiring in Maine.

“I’m not panicked,” Nestor, 59, said. “We’ve seen a number of these financial crises, maybe not to this extent. We’ll get through it, I’m sure.”

Todd Chamberlain, 47, who lives in Washington, D.C., but grew up in the Bangor area, said that he’s worried.

“It’s going to crash,” he said of the economy. “Since I’m going to retire out of the military, if the government goes belly-up, there goes my retirement.”

Chamberlain was sitting in West Market Square on Tuesday holding a Maine Gazetteer. He said that he was looking to invest in land.

“You can always live on land. You can’t always live on money,” he said.

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