30 July 2008

So you're 65. Got a job, yet?

This is the fifth in a series or articles related to critical issues facing seniors. Coming tomorrow: Seniors and energy costs!

It has long been part of the American Dream that one could retire looking forward to an old age of ease, comfort, security and fulfillment. After all, if one were prudent and careful, there would be a company pension (for those years of loyal service and work), maybe a bit of stock in some blue-chips, equity in a home, which had appreciated in value, and social security and Medicare—and Thursday night senior discounts down at the local slop chute.

Since, the late 1800s, the time of the “Iron Chancellor”, Otto von Bismark of Germany, the arbitrary retirement age for those of us in the West has been 65. Now, make no mistake, the Chancellor was neither altruistic nor beneficent. His social security system was designed to neutralize the strength of the German Socialist Party. There were few lining up for benefits—then the average German worker rarely lived to be 65.

In the United States, by 1939, when Social Security first began paying benefits at age 65, the average life expectancy was about 62-years. This, I suppose, once again proves that no matter how much change occurs, nothing really changes. Consider that one of the remedies put forth by Republicans for shoring up Social Security is to once again extend the age limit to draw benefits without penalty. Bismark is not without present day imitators.

Let’s look at right now!

Over 25% percent of older Americans are finding it difficult to pay their mortgage or rent, while 33% say money is so tight that they’ve stopped contributing to their retirement funds. Most, including some 80% who responded to the poll here, say the worsening economy is of primary concern. Each day, food, gas and medicine becomes more expensive while home values and 401(k)s keep falling along with the stock market. And two-thirds have cut back on eating out regardless the senior discounts.

The effect is dramatic. According to a recent AARP survey nearly 25% of those aged 65 to 74 have joined the labor force, and those late boomers, aged 45 to 54, 31% say they will have to delay their retirements well past 65. And 25% of older boomers, aged 55-64, plan likewise. Compare this to only 19% of those aged 65 to 74 in the workforce in 2000!

The Senate Special Committee on aging projects that 80% of the baby-boom generation will have to work well past age 65. The operative word is "have" to; not want to or need to.

In eight very short years, 6% more older Americans (65-74) have been forced to defer retirement for work. The reasons are all around us; failed pension funds, cancellation of employer provided health and drug insurance, rising costs of food, energy and transportation against diminished 401(k) and home values, the burden of higher and higher medical and drug co-pays, deductibles and premiums, and expanding needs for resources and assistance and health and vigor decline.

Certainly there are some older folks who work because they want to. More power to them—I’m on the border line of wanting to work and needing to work. But, those who merely “need” to work could get by without a job. The issue is not those who want or need to work into their old-age, the problem is that all too many of us have to work to survive. That is the problem.

During the last election cycle, I attended a debate party watching the Texas gubernatorial candidates. It was striking and revealing that not word was said nor one question asked about issues affecting older Texans. Nope, none. Nary a single word or question. And that too is part of the problem. We're too quiet, we allow it!

Until we demand attention to our needs and problems they will be ignored. Didn’t the "Iron Chancellor" set the model? All they have to do is out wait us out, since our life-expectancy will have us cashing out before we cash in! The next generation will not know as they become distracted by other issues until they come face-to-face with their own old-age.

I don’t know about you, but I intend to be a right proper pain-in-the-ass reminding them. Because, once again, it is way, way past time for hard-working Americans to have an opportunity for a safe, secure, economically sound, and personally fulfilling old age.

Shane Fox 7/29/08

Coming tomorrow: Sixth installment-Assisting seniors with high energy costs.

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