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Americans find retirement's cheaper in the Philippines

| Thursday, May 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Outsourcing is a fighting word. Whaddaya mean taking work away from Americans and giving it to low-paid foreigners?

But how about “out-retirement” — and maybe to the same place?

For Bruce Silverman there's no place like the Philippines. He has 500-plus employees in several businesses across the Pacific.

But the islands' broader charm, he says, is how cheaply you can live there when no longer bringing in paychecks.

“The elderly lose their dignity in America,” says Silverman, 57, by wonderfully clear phone. It was 4:30 p.m. in Pittsburgh, 4:30 a.m. in his tropical backyard. (He works on U.S. time.)

“It's not fair to have to spend down what you've worked a lifetime to earn to afford assisted living,” he said.

In the Philippines, he says, caregivers, cooks and drivers are so able, willing, and low-cost, they preserve capital better than Wall Street. A transplanted American single might manage on “$800 a month.”

“The Philippines' largest export,” he quips, “is people.” Of 91 million national head-count, possibly 10 million “OFW's” — overseas Filipino workers — do food service, field labor and nannying around the globe. And Silverman knows why.

“Work ethic,” he says. It's taught in schools. Kids learn to respect authority, follow orders, use English and appreciate jobs that might start at $300 a month. They work “much harder than Americans,” according to Silverman. Plus, the wage gap is wider than realized. A U.S. job paying $10 an hour easily becomes $20 total labor costs, with Social Security, insurance, unemployment tax and other factors.

In one of his own businesses, designing websites, he says, a project costing $1,500 stateside “we can do for $200 or $300.”

No cheers for that on U.S. unemployment lines, of course.

But Silverman argues that American manufacturing “still leads the world” in output if not in employment, thanks to technological edge, Quietly, too, outsourced work in programming, for example, has been a survival necessity for small U.S. businesses. “I hate the cliche but it's a global economy,” he says, so taken for granted by shoppers that “if Wal-Mart quit importing from China, there'd be riots in the streets.”

Baltimore-born, Silverman has lived and worked in the Philippines since 1982. He and wife Rose, a native Filipina, have four daughters and live in Baguio, an upscale mountain city six hours from bustling Manila with its 5 million people and “First World business district.” Silverman's has written “The Freedom Handbook, for Living and Retiring in the Philippines.”

Some of its nuggets:

American expatriates, familiarly “expats,” connect with home by internet and lower-fare, off-season jets. Their first $92,600 of yearly earnings are U.S. income tax-exempt.

Some retirees start businesses. A married couple who came to teach English created a cram course for Filipino nurses prepping to take U.S. licensing exams.

GI Joes and Janes wouldn't recognize the huge onetime Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base. They're now industrial zones. We donated them to the host nation, which didn't pick up the nasty colonial bug of hating Americans.

Jack Markowitz is a Thursday columnist for Trib Total Media. Email jmarkowitz@tribweb.com.

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