Rin Hurd manages the help line at the Pension Action Center and codes survey answers for the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging

Rin Hurd, a junior political science major at UMass Boston, admits to not knowing anything about pensions before beginning the Kimpel internship at the Pension Action Center in October 2022. The center, a part of UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute, offers free legal counseling to workers, retirees, and their families who need help tracking and claiming their pension benefits. Hurd (who uses they/them pronouns) was simply looking for a job and is interested in public policy and law.

Hurd’s internship involves doing intake: answering the help line, logging calls, collecting basic information to determine if the center can help and – if so – collecting basic documents to prepare the center’s legal staff. The work began slowly, averaging 8 to 10 calls a day in the fall, but now reaches as high as 20 calls a day. Most commonly, a retiree’s employer was bought by another company, making it complicated for a retiree or their family to track down their missing benefits. 

Hurd now understands much more about retirement benefits, the pension system, and how the policies of a few large corporations can affect many people’s lives. A self-described “policy wonk,” they have long been interested in systems and how they do and don’t work for people. Learning that so many older people struggle financially has been hard, but the Pension Action Center’s successful track record is encouraging.

“We are able to really help a lot of people,” Hurd says. “Even if we can’t take someone’s case, we always talk through their issue and see if we can refer them to someone else.” Because helpline callers often have been passed along from attorney to attorney, or from one government agency to another, “people are so happy to have someone to talk to.”

“Rin brings patience, empathy, and a genuine concern for the challenges our callers are facing,” says Anna-Marie Tabor, director of the Pension Action Center. “They’ve been a critical member of the PAC team as we’ve worked to meet a surge in demand for pension help these past few months.”

Hurd also fills in as a research assistant at the Gerontology Institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging (CSDRA), which has an office next to the Pension Action Center on campus. There Hurd does data entry, coding the responses to a high volume of surveys that CSDRA conducts for communities across Massachusetts on how older residents perceive their quality of life and available resources. The survey answers have also opened Hurd’s eyes.

“A number of times I’ve gone through surveys and someone will simply write, ‘Help me.’ Honestly, it’s heartbreaking. You can see radically different answers depending on how well off the communities are. You can see where some people are falling through the cracks. The biggest issue in Massachusetts is the extremely high cost of living, and that’s what comes across the most [in the survey answers].”

“As a young person, it’s very easy to overlook the elderly population,” they say, and assume older people are okay financially because they have lived long lives. But the more Hurd learns about gerontology, the more they understand that many older people are struggling.

Hurd is considering law school or a master’s of public policy after their undergraduate work. Either way, they plan to have a hand in shaping policy.

“Policy is at the center of everything. Some policies fix things, some make things worse. Every problem in the world can be solved by policy,” they say. “One of my annoyances is people saying they are apolitical. That’s impossible. Housing, food, air pollution, climate change, education—every aspect of our lives is controlled by policy. We just don’t think about it most of the time.”

Whichever path Hurd chooses for a career, they will definitely be wiser than most of their peers about saving for retirement right off the bat. “I have all this knowledge about pensions now,” they say. “I know the difference between pensions and 401Ks.”