Not-So-Golden Years

Local seniors face financial struggles, worry about the future

Considering she's lived in Tucson for more than six decades, Goldie Breeding has celebrated many a Christmas here. But this year's holiday season has a different feel for her.

"I'm just real worried," a still-active 86-year old Breeding remarks. Surrounded in the living room of her mobile home by photos and other memories of a lifetime, Breeding reflects: "I don't want to see another depression ... and we're getting back to almost something like that. The economy is terrible, and things seem to be getting steadily worse.

"People have to have work, and they're losing their homes left and right," Breeding says about the current recession. "The cost of living is going up.

"Have you priced food lately?" Breeding asks, noting that the Community Food Bank is continually low on supplies. "It just makes you wonder what will happen."

Alice Cartwright, who didn't want her real name used, also wonders what is going to happen. At 72 years of age, she's still working up to 30 hours per week out of necessity, helping other seniors with their laundry and household chores.

"I don't have a choice about working," Cartwright says, "because my other income isn't enough to meet my daily needs."

Cartwright indicates that the people she works with are also facing financial difficulties. "Their rent is increasing," she says, "and with stocks going haywire, they don't know what their economic status will be."

But that uncertainty and her continued employment--despite being well past the retirement age for many people--aren't what concern Cartwright the most. Instead, it is the approximately $6,000 in credit-card debt owed by her partner of 12 years.

He has been hospitalized for many months and is expected to remain hospitalized for several more. Even though he is on AHCCCS, the state's health-care program for low-income residents, Cartwright says covering medical expenses takes all but $95 of his monthly Social Security check.

"That means to pay the credit-card bills, there's no money. I'm in no position to pay them, either," she says. "If we ignore the debt, I'll be swamped with phone calls from bill collectors."

As an alternative, Cartwright turned to the Pima Council on Aging for assistance. They wrote letters to the credit-card companies outlining the situation, and Cartwright is awaiting their response.

"This will be kind of a different Christmas," Cartwright says, adding wishfully: "If my sons make millions, I won't have to work, but I'll have to wait for that."

For her part, Goldie Breeding points out that a few years ago, two of her sons got laid off from high-paying jobs with Southern Arizona mines. They found other work, but at lower salaries.

"My family is having a struggle," she says.

Breeding's sons and one of her daughters take her around town since she hasn't driven in some time. She also got to visit another daughter in St. Louis recently.

"When I was there, it snowed," Breeding laughs. "I saw that and said, 'I need to go home.'"

In a strong voice, Breeding declares she is proud of all of her children who have given her 15 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Even in rough economic times like these, she observes: "Enjoy your family. They should come first."

It was her father's poor health that originally brought Breeding's family from Missouri to Phoenix in 1926. The move was successful; he lived to be 94.

Breeding married in 1940, but was widowed three years later. With two young children to support, she went to work for $19 a week in a school cafeteria to supplement the $25 a month she received in widow's compensation from Social Security.

After remarrying, in 1946, Breeding and her new husband came to Tucson, because one of their children had asthma. The couple would be together for 25 years before he died of a heart attack in 1971, which sent Breeding back to school to become a nursing assistant.

Of the city she has lived in for 62 years, the long-retired Breeding exclaims: "I love it. It seems like home."

Early on, the family lived on the south side of town in the Drexel Heights area. She remembers riding the bus downtown at Christmas time.

"The kids would meet Santa Claus," she recalls of these trips in the 1950s, "and we had a lot of fun walking up and down the streets. They'd go to a movie at the Fox while I'd go shopping and do layaways at McLellan's Department Store and Woolworth's. I miss both those stores," which were across from one another on Congress Street near Stone Avenue.

On Christmas Day, Breeding remembers, the extended family would meet at her mother's house, because everyone thought: "She was the best cook." After her mother's passing, they all assembled at Breeding's house, until she sold it a decade ago and moved into a trailer court.

As for this holiday season, Breeding says: "I'm just real worried and pray the new president will do what he promised."

About her own philosophy in these uncertain economic times, Breeding concludes: "Thank God for your blessings, and enjoy your life!"

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