Wednesday, June 2, 2010

We could retire earlier ...

From the New York Times (

Beth Almeida is executive director of the National Institute on Retirement Security, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington. She is the co-author of “A Better Bang for the Buck: The Economic Efficiencies of Defined Benefit Pension Plans.

She writes:

Longer lives do not necessarily require longer careers. Yes, seniors are living a few years longer than they did decades ago. Life expectancy at age 65 has improved by about 35 percent since 1950. But our country’s gross domestic product is also roughly six times larger than it was in 1950 and household incomes have grown by a similar amount.

Higher retirement ages are not economically or demographically necessary.
That means not only can we still afford retirement, we can afford even more of it if that’s what we want. That’s good news. Yet somehow, longer lives have become an economic bogeyman.

I have often thought about this: We have so much more wealth as society than we used to even 50 years ago that we don't "have to" up the retirement age. We could, for example, decide we don't want to provide 50 percent of the world's military budget. We don't have to assume that younger people won't want to pay for older people's retirement. I can easily imagine younger people buying into the idea that if they pay now, they will have the same benefits to look forward to when they get older. We could also allow more immigration if we are short of working-aged people to support baby boomers.

Another writer talked about the changes in aging in this country and argued that people want to work longer, take care of "unfinished" business and do meaningful work as a long as they can. I agree with this, but don't think it means we need to somehow limit or do away with retirement benefits. For many people, meaningful and part-time work at the end of life is only possible because of the cushion of social security and other retirement income. Also, I worry that what is good for the middle and upper classes--a lifetime opportunity to work--could become lifelong wage slavery for working class people. I hope we will find the will as a country to continue to both finance retirement and allow people opportunities to contribute to the common good or their own enrichment as long as they can.

The Bible speaks to this by noting that love casts out fear. If we are loving others and putting first the kingdom, there will be an abundance of resources. The story of the loaves and the fishes illustrates this point.


Hystery said...

My generation is teeny weeny compared to the Baby Boom generation so sometimes that becomes a difficulty. I'm in the situation in which baby boomers are not retiring and the jobs I want are therefore occupied...apparently forever..or at least until I'm "too old" to be considered and they'll hire someone ten or fifteen years younger than I am. If older folks can't afford to retire then younger folks can't get opportunities to take on new responsibilities in the work force. We end up in entry level jobs indefinitely as is the case with my husband and me. I do NOT ever want to force an older worker out. I think that is a really cheesy and nasty move (often done so they can hire a younger person at a lower wage rate and without benefits). If a person loves their work, and wants to stay in it until they are a hundred years old, I say they should, but if an older person feels they have no choice and must keep working when they'd rather be doing something else with their time, then we're doing something wrong as a society.

Diane said...

Hi Hystery,

Thanks for responding. I think we need push back on the oft-repeated story that our society can't afford to allow people to retire at 65 or 66. We can. If we have six times the GDP and three times the retirees we had in 1960--well, that sounds very doable to me. Also, I think many 60-somethings would be glad to switch places with you and your husband and do the graceful climb down the ladder--IF they felt secure that they could afford it.

Hystery said...

I think that people in their sixties should feel confident that they will not *have* to work (especially in a job that is no longer satisfying. I'm sure my mother would love to quit her job and move onto new roles. I feel no resentment toward Baby Boomers who work because they continue to grow within their jobs and find meaning there. That's fantastic. I do feel resentment toward our economic system when people want to retire and can't do it because they do not have adequate health care and retirement benefits to do so without feeling they are taking too great a risk. That is just stupid, inhumane, and inefficient. Like you say, we have made some pretty rotten decisions about resource allocation (how many wars is enough?!). The size of the Baby Boom generation is significant enough that there should have been a great deal more forethought regarding their retirement. I guess we'll wait until things are critical, lots of people are hurt, and we've run out of time before we address it as a society.

I know what I want the government and employers to do but how do Friends address this issue? It seems related to social class and equality. How do we address the very real fear and sadness related to work, aging, and financial insecurity?