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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Working At Age 72: Why Shirley Martin Stays On The Payroll

Most of us don’t expect to work into our 70s, but many North Texans don’t have a choice.

Take Shirley Martin, one of the people we’re following in our series One Crisis Away. Shirley, like almost half of all Texans, doesn’t have enough money in savings to survive a financial emergency for three months.

Shirley's one of those rare people who you want to share stories with after just a minute or two in her company. Which is why receptionist at a south Dallas Salvation Army might be the perfect job for her.

“I see all kinds of people here, I hear them on the phone and I listen to them and the stories,” she says. “It means a lot to me. I just wish I could do more.”

Shirley helps folks who call in figure out where to find help. Some need assistance with rent or utilities; others are looking for furniture or a bus ticket.

While she isn’t exactly in the same boat, Shirley feels a connection to people on the other end of the phone.

“It isn’t hard to relate to them, because I’ve been there. When you’re down, you’re down, when you’re out, you’re out, and I can really relate to them,” she says. “That’s why I take it real hard.”

At age 72, Shirley works 19 hours a week. She makes $7.25 an hour, and while that might not sound like a lot, Shirley says it adds up to more than $400 a month. And an extra $400 a month is night and day for her finances.

“First of all, it gives me something to do,” she says. “Second of all, it helps me with my bills, my insurance and things that I come short of.”

Shirley’s never shied away from working. She was a professional cook for years, first at the Hockaday School in Dallas, then at a church and catering company. She worked as a security guard for a while and then signed on with an AARP program that eventually placed her at the Salvation Army.

Keeping this schedule can be exhausting. But Shirley says that with a mortgage to pay on her DeSoto home and bills to juggle, that’s just life.

“It’s just hard. You’ve just really got to do something extra if you can, like get another job and it tires you out, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.”

When she adds up her Social Security check, salary and money she gets renting out rooms in her house to temporary tenants, Shirley says she can make ends meet, but that’s about it.

“I can’t put any money aside, all my money goes to every day, every month. You know, no savings,” she says. “And if I do save, it’s just putting it up for a minute or two.”

But you won’t catch her complaining. In fact, Shirley wants to work, as long as she physically can. And she thinks that’s a good recipe for other seniors on the edge.

“I know times are hard. Times are hard for everybody. But, don’t give up,” she says. “Like my saying is, tough times don’t last always, but good people do.”

And so do tough Texans like Shirley Martin.

Here's a KERA News video of Shirley at work:

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.