Plight of the ‘Physical Worker’: Worn-Out Bodies and Little Savings

Mr. McCadden, who now lives in Brookline, N.H., knows a lot about that. After he sold Custom Contracting in 2004, he started a consulting company, Remodel My Business, to help fellow contractors navigate a path to profitability and retirement.

“Contractors usually start out as carpenters, and the majority of them jump in thinking: ‘This is great. I’m going to make 35 dollars an hour instead of 26,’” he said. “They don’t usually have a lot of business savvy.” He retired from Remodel My Business at the start of the pandemic.

“When I did live training sessions, I often asked how many people in the room expect to work until they die,” Mr. McCadden said. Routinely, 70 percent raised a hand. “There’s a lot of nervous laughter after that. The majority of the people in the industry are good craftsmen. They know how to work hard, but they don’t know how to manage the future.”

Mr. McCadden took steps to map his own future after watching his father struggle to retire in the 2000s. “I learned a lot from his experience,” he said. “He had little to no time for anything other than his business and sleeping, and he struggled, physically, to get to retirement. Because he didn’t know the business part, I made a point of figuring it out.”

Now, aside from the sciatica and knee pain, Mr. McCadden lives comfortably, having made a variety of investments and selling his company.

Sabrina Robinson is not sure she will be so lucky. Ms. Robinson, 55, cleans medical and dental offices in San Francisco for a janitorial company, Janico Building Services. At the end of 2019, she started saving through CalSavers, a new state program in which workers are automatically enrolled in an individual retirement plan to save if their employers do not provide a retirement plan. Workers can opt out.