Caught Short

James Roberts spent 33 years at Bethlehem Steel, 28 of them operating a massive ceiling-mounted crane in a mill turning out 20-inch steel. Sometimes he would work six days a week, 10 hours a day, often in shifts that started at 8 at night or 4:30 in the morning. When he retired in November, 2000, he was only 53 but had begun to suffer from a degenerative bone disease as well as high blood pressure and cholesterol, all of which required monthly medications. But Roberts wasn't worried: He had a health plan from Bethlehem and a pension of $1,887.75 a month. That all changed in 2002 when Bethlehem declared bankruptcy. The filing wiped out the retiree medical plans, and the pension was taken over by the PBGC, which cut Roberts' monthly payments by a third. Some months Roberts goes without his most expensive medications, like Zocor, which he takes for high cholesterol at a monthly cost of $120 to $135. "With the pension cuts, I couldn't afford it," he says. Recently he took a part-time job working the lunch shift in a school cafeteria for $7.50 an hour.

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