[photo: lady smiling]

American Families

Listen up, Ladies

Jan Pena-Davis

A pension is no piggy bank. It's a lesson Jan Pena-Davis has learned the hard way. Three times, the Chicago teacher withdrew amounts between $10,000 and $20,000 from her pension fund. Each time she resigned and pulled out money, Pena-Davis hoped she was financing a dream that would pay off. She went to graduate school to become a diplomat, started writing a book and worked for an airline. But after every failed pursuit, she returned to teaching – with an increasingly diminished pension.

Now the 60 year old is facing a scary fact: "I don't have enough money in my pension that will allow me even a reasonable lifestyle." She joked, "I will probably disintegrate on the job."

While she watches fellow teachers her age retire, Pena-Davis is living paycheck to paycheck with no investments. And as an Illinois teacher, she will not collect Social Security.

Add in substantial credit card debt from a predilection for expensive Swedish underwear and a weakness for spoiling her grandchildren, and Pena-Davis has a retirement crisis.

"I never in a million years would have said, 'well, I'm not able to retire with my peers.' Because I should be. It's my fault." Looking on the bright side, she added, "I have an incredible son-in-law, who would not allow me to go homeless."

The two-time divorcée believes that her problems are common among many unmarried women.

"There are so many women who don't have husbands now or chose not to have husbands who are now confronted with the idea, 'okay, how am I going to live, where am I going to live?'" She continued, "It sort of snuck up on us."

Pena-Davis remains hopeful that her dreams will pan out. She has a novel in the works, a screenwriting prize and some soon-to-be published writings, and she's balancing her optimism with some practical steps too, like teaching summer school and setting up a Roth IRA.

Her advice to other women is to start thinking about money early and to give their passports and savings books to someone else, saying, "here, take it – put it in your safe, so that I'm not tempted to touch it and buy a new car or piece of artwork or whatever."

For now, the English teacher plans to stay at her job as long as she can. But her sights are set high for her next dream quest.

"When I write my book, I want you all to come to my movie premiere!" Then with resignation, she quipped, "I'm too old to change."

Back to American Families main page

Contact Us Site Map Pressroom WTTW Digital Archives Production Services Corporate Sponsorship PBS 98.7WFMT

Privacy Policy & Terms of Use

©2016 WWCI