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Thursday April 26th 2018

Jobless babyboomer may lose his home, security and retirement

It was the longest counselling session I had with a jobless PMET during my work with the unemployed for the past seven years – a record-breaking four hours but it was worth every minute of the marathon session.

Most of our counselling sessions are in the region of an hour and a half to two hours but Philip taxed me to the max  from 2pm to 6pm outside a cosy corner at Hans NLB Bugis.

Maybe because both of us belong to the same babyboomer generation, even exactly at the same age with the same religion and facing the same issue that plagues most PMETs in their fifties. Sometimes, when I see him I saw myself facing similar frustrations if I am still married, still paying a hefty 6-figure HDB mortgage in my fifties and probably still jobless like him – clasping at straws.

At a time when we should be easing off in our career and looking forward to our golden retirement years, the babyboomer generation is now caught in a never-ending web of financial worry and emotional turmoil – one that we would not have imagine when we are still young and employable.

Chief of Philip’s worry is his home mortgage taken for a prestigious HDB 5-room flat bought almost twenty over years ago of which there is still a hefty $100,000 10-year loan to go. When we buy a house 15 to 20 years ago, we won’t be able to anticipate the kind of problems we will be facing when we turn fifties – old, unemployable and poor.

The matter is made worse with all the current talk of our HDB flats going to ashes if it hits the end of the 99-year lease and home owners who take up hefty 6-figure mortgage loan must be sweating in their pants now. Many holding on to 50-year-old property in very matured estates like Toa Payoh or Ang Mo Kio area will probably be thinking of selling out in case the house value plummets to nothing once it reaches 60 years old and beyond.

However, like many typical Singaporeans who are in the prime age of 30s – 40s, we want the best for our family and a big HDB flat is a reasonable reward for the hard work we have put in for ourselves. A loan of $300,000 spread over 20 to 25 years seem tenable and achievable – that is if we are still working and remain employable till the end of our loan at 65 years old.

There is the talk of downgrading for Philip to permanently ease the pain but I sense a reluctance there as it may mean not only a loss of space over brick and mortar but also the the esteem issue as there is a potent loss of esteem and prestige which probably may be more damaging for the 50-something babyboomer.

Home ownership is every Singaporean ultimate dream as it gives us a sense of achievement and citizenry participation in the economic progress we have made so far and it has being stellar over the past few decades. Downgrading – to many Singaporeans – does seem a backward step and not in psyche with the general population’s dream and aspiration.

“Its like losing the Singaporean dream,” Philip confided in me when we go through the option of downgrading to a smaller 4-room flat. He mentions the Singaporean dream several times throughout our 4-hour chat and frankly it never occurs to me that losing a bigger flat means losing what we have as a Singaporean.

Many Singaporeans will be caught when they reach 55 years old as that is the time a sizeable portion of our CPF will be locked away in the Retirement Account (RA) for the dreaded ever-increasing minimum sum rendering any planned mortgage deduction invalid. One can only use whatever new contribution we have in our ordinary account if we are still gamefully employed to pay for the rest of our mortgages till the end of our loan or age 65 years old. If not, there is a high chance that we may lose our home due to prolonged non-payment of mortgages.

It will always be a cat-and-mouse game to stay on top of the monthly mortgage payment when we are so unemployable in our fifties and as most Singaporeans will stretch their loan till the maximum age of 65 years old its going to be a torrid 10 years of financial stress and insecurity. We have also recently heard of how our elderly retiree folks could not sell their paid-up HDB flat to raise valuable money to fund retirement for their golden years further exacerbating a growing problem.

Philip’s story continues as he told me how he has left a job 9 months ago that paid close to $4000/month after enduring some horrific office politics and though the work torture has ended he is left to lick his financial wounds which promises to be more tormenting.

Moreover, a tenant has just left at about the same time he has left his work, denying him any precious passive income to pay for the monthly utilities and miscellaneous bills. The dent on his remaining savings account becomes more acute afterwards.

“It is difficult to get back another tenant even though we advertised frequently through the housing agent,” he lamented.

Many Singaporeans have to rent out a room or even two rooms if space permitted in order to make ends meet. Its good passive income for the slight discomfort in having to bear with a stranger in your own home.

There is no easy way out when you hit your  difficult fifties and every option has to be tried out in order to smoothen out the unstable journey ahead.

I asked him if his family members have contribute to the household expenditure as his wife and only son are both working. He confided that the wife helps out in the monthly mortgage contribution whereas his son only helps to pay for the utilities which amount to less than $200 each month.

Maybe Philip wants to still bear the main burden of being a breadwinner as the man of the household but at a era whereby jobs and good salary are two hard-to-come-by components, I sounded out to him to rope in the son as the third owner of the home so that his CPF can be utilised to pay for the house.

He vehemently agrees and let us hope that there will be a good ending here so that the family won’t need to sell the house and loses the Singaporean dream.

Ageism is also another big word he uses frequently as we pored through the limited options available for the aging babyboomer. Armed with decades of work experience and several diplomas, he has never feel so defeated in his life while out job searching.

We all know that once you hit the big 5, you don’t have to apply for any jobs as chances are you will hit a huge strong black wall. You either automatically apply for the taxi license or take up a Grab application form and for those who have no driving license, you go for the next best available choice – be a security guard.

The path is very narrow for this group of skilled older PMETs as ageism riles our economy like the plague hanging over our bowed head. Even at half the last drawn salary, no one will want to give us a chance and the problem will only grow as we have one of the world’s worst ageing population.

The scenario of mass unemployment and underemployment among the ageing  skilled PMETs, thousands of home owners downgrading to smaller flats and probably high divorce rate may happen anytime soon if we are not careful.

Philip attended all the Skills Future courses and though laudable it has not really help him to be more employable and the on-going PCP (Professional Conversion Programme) has yet to really achieve it’s ultimate aim of providing people with relevant jobs after conversion. There are still talk of people looking for viable jobs after completing the PCP.

The PCP is not a rosy one-shop-fits-all kind of programme though but it does help some who could transit smoothly to another career and one must also be nimble enough to step out into another strange work environment and lower pay scale.  Our government tends to tinker at the margins with upgrading courses and even proper career counselling sessions for matured jobless PMETs while failing to address structural causes such as ageism and the growing problem of mass foreign imports.

However, adaptabilty has always being the babyboomer’s main Archilles heel and many could not transit as easily as they want to out of their comfort zone to another entirely new career – even if the situation is desperate and necessary.

At the end of the 4-hour marathon session, I have this to say to the depressive Philip: “Your family still sticks together in this situation which is good as I saw some tore apart by the uncertainty of financial worries and instability. You are indeed blessed to have a good wife who stood by you when the chips are falling off – not many are so fortunate like you.”

As we both went our separate way at the nearby MRT station, I saw his feeble back ambling into the thick crowd as he journeyed home and I sincerely wish then that our country will really look into his welfare more.

And we have not even discuss about the perplexing retirement issue yet in our conversation…Singapore certainly can do better.

Written by: Gilbert Goh

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2 Responses to “Jobless babyboomer may lose his home, security and retirement”

  1. xyz says:

    I strongly advise against putting the son’s name as co-owner. This will mean he has “enjoyed” a subsidised HDB & will be treated as 2nd timer when he wants to get his own flat in the future.

  2. Jie Ming says:


    I read with great interests on your interview article. I find that no matter where we are, it is good to save money for raining days. In the event if we are unemployed, it could help us financially before getting a new job. I know that most Singaporeans love to have a little house to be called as our home. HDB is part of the Government housing ownership to enable most of us to own a flat when we cannot afford a private property. And 99-years leasehold is a long period of time to know what lies ahead for our HDB flat. Our flats are going to ashes if it hits the end of the 99-years lease and home owners would not be allowed to extend it. Anyway, we all know that government flats are not our flats. Therefore, we can never be allowed to use our HDB flat as a pledge.

    Maybe we should not be investing in an HDB flat? It is better to rent a place than to buy an HDB flat, so we will not be having hefty 6-figure mortgage loan. The writer mentioned that most of us wanted the best for our family and a big HDB flat is a reasonable reward for the hard work we have put in for ourselves. In a way, it is correct. But do we want to feel stressful with outstanding loan not paid to the bank and when we are suddenly retrenched? Is chasing a Singaporean dream so important or losing our home due to prolong non-payment of mortgages?

    Unless we can afford to buy a private condo. If you rent an HDB flat, your 20-30 years of CPF funds for serving the HDB flat loan will be left untouched and upon retirement, these sums will be enormous due to compound interests.

    There is a talk of downgrading for Philip to permanently ease the pain, but I sense a reluctance there as it may mean not only a loss of space over brick and mortar but also the esteem issue as there is a potent loss of esteem and prestige which probably may be more damaging for the 50-something baby boomer.
    Many couples in developed countries are mainly renting to stay. They could not afford to even pay the down payments in order to get a housing loan as housing prices are very expensive. It is just a matter of choice for us. Do you prefer to be in depression stress or live your life just to show others? It’ll be difficult to sell your HDB flat when the remaining leasehold is less than 55 years. No banks will provide you a housing loan. Unless you can provide huge cash, payment and borrow less from the banks. If I have so much cash, I will buy a private property.

    We all know what will happened once we hit 45 and suddenly becomes jobless. Chances are, you will be hit by a huge strong black wall of difficulties in order to get re-employed. These problems usually occur in most of the developed countries. We can no longer be staying in a comfort zone to relax once we have a family, a car, a flat or going for annual holidays with family members. These are all in the past. We are now considered a developed country with mature economy. So, we must now learn to make changes to our careers or whatever. There are no more promises of remaining employed with the same employee for a life time. Or the government can keep you well if you voted for them.

    We are on our own now.

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