Working Longer

According to Professor Yarrow, a history professor at American University, it is unpatriotic to retire while you are still in good health.

"Retiring when you’re still in good health isn’t just wrong, it’s profoundly selfish and unpatriotic…Dropping out of the workforce while still in one’s prime means ending one’s contributions to America’s strength, mortgaging our children’s and grandchildren’s future, and leeching trillions of taxpayer dollars from the economy… If millions of Americans worked until age 67 instead of 62…[they] would increase national output and personal wealth and keep the labor force at a healthy level."
Extract from critique in The Baltimore Sun, March 26, 2008

I am not a believer in early retirement. Most people I know are betting that I will never retire. But I don’t think we should lay a guilt trip on people who do choose to retire. I can think of lots of reasons for people to keep working, not the least of which is if they have a choice. Since most employers still have some form of retirement policy or simply push the older worker out through downsizing, the issue is more of a societal attitude toward older workers than any kind of selfish act on the part of an individual.

If an individual chooses to work beyond the normal retirement age of 65 or so—good for them. If they don’t, then that is their choice.  

This doesn’t mean that our social policies have to include paying for those who are retired. In my view, there is far too much entitlement and not enough personal responsibility. Social security is earned and part of a social contract and should be maintained as such. If the government wants to give me back what I put into the system, then I can have the benefit they promised. Beyond this, however, other forms of subsidy and welfare are inappropriate if people are employable and if opportunities for work are available.

This is easy to say, but the fact is that we live in a different world than we did 50 or 100 years ago. In the past, communities and families took care of the ‘old’ or there were many people working to support those who needed help and compassion from the general public. Today families and communities are fragmented, and fewer workers have to carry the tax burden for the whole society (let alone the aging population). Regardless of how it ‘should be’, we cannot deny that there is simply not going to be enough to go around unless older individuals take responsibility for their own future. I would even call upon them to take responsibility for the larger society as well, which is what ‘Eldering’ is all about.

If people do this, then no matter whether they continue to work or remain engaged in non-paid ways, they will be participating in creating the future along with the young and everyone in between. Creating the future is a team sport and we all have an equal stake in how it turns out.