February 2, 2024

Work Until You Die?

Think about the people who want to raise the retirement age. What kind of jobs do they have? Most have what I call think-talk jobs, jobs that require very little physical exertion, but rely on talking about situations, thinking about problems, attending meetings, applying learned information to situations, reading documents, occasionally writing documents, expressing opinions.

These talk-think jobs are held by Congresspeople, business executives, bankers, some TV personalities, and others whose work is mostly not physical. As long as people retain their mental faculties (and sometimes even when they don't), they can continue doing this kind of work well into old age. People with this kind of work often consider it a big part of their identity, and are therefore not interested in retiring. All or most of the people they know do the same kind of work; their contact with other kinds of workers tends to be superficial. It is easy for them to imagine a world in which no one retires before age 80, and maybe not even then.

Compare them to people who have body-using jobs: Construction workers, gardeners, janitors, garbage collectors, farmers, warehouse workers, food servers, and many others. Some jobs that may not look physically demanding really are, because they require the worker to stand for hours. Think of grocery cashiers, hairdressers, department store clerks, and others who are on their feet all day.

People lose strength and stamina as they age. A person at 65, even if healthy, is not as strong as they were at 45. Physically demanding jobs can be hard on the body over time and are often not practical for older people. Yet the people with think-talk jobs often fail to understand the challenges of body-using jobs. A lot of these people ignore the fact that older people are often let go by their employers, sometimes because they are at a higher pay grade, sometimes because they are physically outperformed by younger workers. It is very difficult for people over 50 to get hired anywhere (although it sometimes happens), and it is a rare employer indeed who wants to hire someone over 65.

If we imagine that every person who reaches age 65 has the option of keeping their current job or getting a new one, we are kidding ourselves. Besides, having 75-year-olds on the roof laying shingles or operating a steam press all day doesn't seem like a good idea. Who would feel good about making a great-grandmother clean public restrooms until the day she drops dead from exhaustion? People who have paid into Social Security or some other retirement plan for decades deserve the chance to finally relax and get what they paid for.


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