Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Please hire me

[Working till she drops]
A couple of years ago my 40-something cardiologist earnestly told me that the Social Security/Medicare problem was a cinch to fix--all we had to do was increase the retirement age. Right, I thought - I'm in my 60s and facing open-heart surgery, but once I recover I can go pound the pavement. My cardiologist is not an economist, however, and he's a good doctor, so I held my peace.

Yesterday's New York Times ran an article by Economic Scene writer Eduardo Porter, who should know better. In "The Payoff in Delaying Retirement" Porter writes:
What if there were a way for the government to ease the strain that the aging place on the budget while actually increasing their income in retirement, at little or no cost to their benefits? A well-designed reform would even improve the nation’s rate of economic growth. The way to do it is simply to encourage older workers to spend a larger share of their increasing life spans in the work force.

 Sometimes solutions that look good on paper don't work so well in the real world.

First, most boomers are already planning to work until they drop, since they have saved practically nothing for retirement. I'm not sure they need any additional encouragement. What they need is reality therapy.

Second, over the last decade or so, a lot of companies have downsized. Their PR departments speak of this as right-sizing. What it means is that (a) fewer jobs are available; (b) older workers--the ones getting the bigger paychecks because of seniority--are in greatest peril of being laid off; and (c) the remaining jobs require much longer work days. Such policies, good as they may be for a business's bottom line, are not conducive toward extending one's working years.

Third, it's hard for laid-off older folks to get entry-level jobs. Not only are they overqualified (whatever that means), but the jobs just aren't there. Ask any recent grad.

Fourth, while some older people can work at full capacity well into their 70s and 80s, many cannot. However cheerfully chirpy AARP publications may be, 60 is not the new 40. Over 70% of Americans between ages 60 and 79 have some form of cardiovascular disease, for example, compared to fewer than 40% of people between ages 40 and 49 (see data here). For every person between ages 40 and 44 who is diagnosed with cancer, more than eight people between ages 65 and 69 are so diagnosed (see data here). And those who plan to die with their boots on should be aware that nearly 14% of people over 70 have Alzheimer's disease (see data here).

But let's neglect all those potential problems and stipulate that those of us who are capable of working really should be working, at least until--shall we say--age 70. OK, I'll offer myself as a test case. 

I am 64 years old. I have a solid work history with excellent recommendations, though I have not had a regular employer for some 13 years and my industry--book publishing--is in a hard place. With three master's degrees and a background in teaching as well as editing, writing, and management, I'm quite versatile. My health has been pretty good since my open-heart surgery a year and a half ago (I will require excellent medical insurance, however). I have an extended network of other aging publishing professionals.  

So keep me off Social Security and Medicare for another five years. Offer me a full-time job with a respectable salary and benefits.

Or isn't "encourag[ing] older workers to spend a larger share of their increasing life spans in the work force" quite as simple as Mr. Porter believes?

No comments: