The concept of retirement baffles me. I certainly see why people want to retire if they have unpleasant jobs, fun hobbies, and interesting grandkids. But why is it okay with the rest of society that individuals can simply stop contributing to the greater good?

Retirement is a fairly recent concept in historical terms. When the average life expectancy was 40, it wasn't much of an issue. I think the concept of retirement really took off when people were healthy and productive until about 65, on average, then started the rapid descent towards a dirt nap at about age 75. No one begrudged a few years of relaxation to someone who had put in 50 solid years of productive toil.

Now we have people retiring at 60 and living to 100. Do you still feel good about that? Even if the retiree has saved money for retirement, society is still picking up a big part of the tab. You have the Social Security payments that usually exceed the amount paid into the system, and all the roads, police, firemen, and other services that are being funded by other people's taxes. The list goes on.

I think about this when I hear about young families struggling with childcare expenses at the same time a bazillion retirees watch Jeopardy and wish they had something better to do. Is there really no way to solve those two problems at the same time?

If human life expectancy had suddenly jumped from 40 to 80, instead of gradually increasing, it would have been socially unacceptable to retire before your health failed. But because life expectancy inched up, we drifted into a situation where older people aren't expected to be part of the solution. I think most of them would prefer to contribute more than they are.

People who know me well don't ask when I plan to retire. I'm sure I will stop drawing comics at some point, but I can't imagine a life where I'm not adding something back to the system. I don't think I'm that different from most people.

When we think of how to patch up the ailing economy, we reflexively think about youth. We think about education, and innovation, and getting healthcare for young working people. I think we're leaving some low hanging fruit on the trees with the older generation.

For example, imagine the government coming up with some sort of carbon trading-like plan for healthcare. Under this plan, anyone who uses less than the average amount of healthcare for his or her age, during a given year, wins some extra government funding for their local school system, and that amount would be tracked and publicly reported. You'd feel like a stud to be on the top of the healthy seniors list.

The idea is that retirees would be incented to exercise and eat right, thus cutting their average medical bills. Old people are the biggest users of medical care, so the impact could be huge. And since any savings would not go directly to the retirees, they wouldn't be incented to skimp on medical visits just to make a few bucks for themselves.

I'm making an assumption here that keeping older people healthy saves society money, but I could be wrong if it boosts life expectancy. That tradeoff would have to be studied, but you get the idea that maybe there are some missed opportunities here.

Certainly retired people could be helping with childcare, tutoring, crime watch, and other functions that directly benefit society, at least a few hours per week. Can you think of any other ways to harness senior power to juice the economy?
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Oct 9, 2008
Retire, get a psychology degree, become a therapist (or counselor of some sort). Very helpful to society, and very satisfying existentially. Would help people understand others' problems, and get them thinking about what society really needs.
Oct 9, 2008
Oct 9, 2008
Jeopardy? Too much like work-- struggling to recall insignificant trivia. I'm hoping for more free !$%* when I retire.
Oct 9, 2008
I'd sure like to put the grandparents to work watching my kids! But 2 of them haven't stopped working, and the other set are already watching my slacker sister the single parent's kid.

Despite raising four kids, my wife's parents seem shocked at the energy levels & difficulties of the 4 & 2 yr old grandchildren. I think there is some intentional forgetfulness there after your kids reach a certain stage...the bad memories are sloughed off like old skin. They aren't quite 65, but seem to have some trouble keeping up. I think combining 60 people with some kids would improve their health by all the extra exercise, but people in the meaty part of the earning power curve don't like to earn minimum wage watching little germ factories.
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Oct 9, 2008
Uhm... That 40 year life expectancy wasn't because 40 year olds were dropping like flies. People were regularly productive into their 60's.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 9, 2008
I'm trying to imagine why you think there are "a bazillion retirees watch Jeopardy and wish they had something better to do". In my experience those who stay home and do nothing are pretty happy with that and those who want to work do so and are pretty happy too. I think there are far more people who are working over the age of 65 at crappy jobs to barely survive than freeloaders resting on their laurels.

Even if retired people do stay home watching t.v. and complaining they may still be making a contribution to society, just not one you recognize. Many retired people perform volunteer work, babysit for family members, and keep neighborhoods social and safe places.

I don't know this for sure, but I don't think most people are forced to retire at 65 anymore, there seem to be too many working senior citizens for that to be true. Not to mention that many, if not most, people work because they have to, not because they want to - kudos to you for finding a job that suits you- but honestly, how many people who are receptionists or Taco Bell employees really *love* their jobs?

My mom is retiring this year and I'm thrilled for her! She's a little over 65 and has worked her ass off, both at work and as a single parent. I don't think there is a thing wrong with her being able to relax and concentrate on her family and friends. Taking care of older people is part of being civilized.

Oct 9, 2008
How are the acts of taking care of the grandkids and practicing fun hobbies NOT contributing to society? Seems like these acts in themselves (especially the exciting hobbies) put money back into the economy, as well as further one's interaction and influence in the community.

Further, withdrawing money from accounts like a 401(k) still requires the account holder to contribute by paying taxes.

I don't know what to do about the unmotivated people who do nothing but draw from society. I don't think you could motivate them by putting them on a "healthy seniors list" because they are the same people who didn't mind being unhealthy young adults and unhealthy middle-aged citizens. The people on the "healthy seniors list" will, for the most part, be the people who worked hard and took care of themselves all their lives, contributing to society every step of the way.
Oct 9, 2008
"Can you think of any other ways to harness senior power to juice the economy?"
Maybe we could rig up some kind of harness for the front of our cars ad they could pull us to work each morning. I just trying to think green here.
Oct 9, 2008
People should be able to retire when they want to and contribute to the community IF they want to. My grandmother was a teacher for 40 years, and after she "retired" she became the caretaker of her city's museum along with several other "retired" women. I respect her for that - she and her friends have done a lot for their community. But I wouldn't think any less of her if she had decided to stay at home and live out her retirement doing nothing. Her husband, my grandfather, is 75 years old and has been on the local college board for years. He fought in the Korean war and was a principal of a school for a long time. He recently lost the election to the college board. His opponent's main argument was that my grandfather was "too old" to keep doing it.

My two other grandparents, however, decided to simply retire and live in peace after many years of teaching and contributing to society. I respect that too.

I personally never plan to completely retire. I love giving back to society, and even if it's something small such as working for a charity for free, I will always want to do something. But I would never, EVER advocate that retired people be forced to work against their wills.

I do agree that people should have to save up for their own retirement, however. I am 20 years old and I am already working towards saving for it. I think people should not expect the government to bail them out if they decide not to save any money for retirement but want to retire. having to retire due to medical issues is one thing, but doing it just because you don't like working isn't a good excuse for the government to send you money.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 9, 2008
What about Geriatric Gladiators? Winner's grandkids get free tuition. Loser gets fed to their cats.
Oct 9, 2008
Wow. There are so many way to respond to this. I think your view might be different if you felt your only option were to work in a soul s-u-c-k-i-n-g job like Dilbert... and then were basically told you couldn't even do that anymore to make room for more Indians.

I respect the right of individuals to decide for themselves if they want to retire - and to draw on the social security that they paid for over the years. After all, if I die early and alone, no one will refund that money to me or the charity of my choice.

I volunteered as a marine in Vietnam. In many ways, I've been punished for it most of my life. Now you want me feel guilty for wanting the government to keep their word about my social security retirement? Or to feel guilty for living? Bite me.

Even older people - and people without your resources - want to feel valuable and appreciated. (And not discriminated against.)
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 9, 2008
I suspect you have always had a good work ethic and a strong sense of social responsibility so for you, at retirement age, these qualities will not change. See, here's my take: young people with a good work ethic turn into old people with a good work ethic. My grandfather is in his upper 80's, a WWII vet, and still volunteers free legal advice to people who are trying to start their own buisness several hours each week. He works as a volunteer at a local museum, giving guided tours. And when I had twins five years ago, he would come over twice a week and take my two-year-old and my four-year-old to McDonalds and then the park so I could get a few things done.

However, lazy young people who always expect others to serve them, turn into lazy old people, who sit around watching Jeopardy, waiting for their social security check, and generally whine about how the younger generation is going to pot.

Age doesn't make any difference -- it's who you are that makes a difference. Age just makes you old.
Oct 9, 2008
My anecdotes are as useless as anyone else's, but I don't really know any people in the 60 set who spend the day "watch Jeopardy and wish they had something better to do."

The elderly that I know seem to fall into two groups:

* Those who have always made a contribution to society, and continue to do so either by working or volunteering or taking care of their grandkids. They are obviously not moping about having nothing to do, and they do not really need to be pushed to do more.

* Those who have never contributed to society, or have contributed only grudgingly. They are sitting in front of the TV all day, and they are happy about it, and good luck getting them to do anything else with their time. My own mother is one of these people. ANY productive work would do her a great deal of good, but she abhors the thought. She could not care less about contributing money to schools, and she could not care less about what her community thinks of her. She firmly believes that she has worked "all her life" and that it is her turn to take from the system. I'd like to believe that my mother is unique in this regard, but somehow I doubt it. If you're going to give people incentives, it has to be something they want. My mother - and many like her, I'm sure - would do anything for a few free cigarettes, though. But while that may get her to an earlier grave and save money on social security, it's not a truly viable incentive program.

I'm sure there are elderly folks out there who have nothing to do but watch TV and hate it, but I don't know any of them. I wonder if it is a social class issue? Wealthy retirees travel often and otherwise amuse themselves just fine. Poor people can't afford to retire completely, or if they do they watch the grandkids for their not-wealthy children. But upper-middle-class retirees....they have just enough money in the bank that they don't need to work, and their kids have just enough money that they don't need Grandpa's help. But they don't have quite enough money to live a life of happy leisure, either.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 9, 2008
Do you really want to live under a government that has to right to tell people what to do at whatever stage of life they are at? most retired people saved for the privlage of taking it easy in their latter years. As for social security, if our congress hadn't stolen all the money in vote buying schemes but actually put it aside for retirees there would be no question that even I would get a return on what I'm putting into the system. Of course I'm smart enough not to count on it and have been busy making other plans. And just because you aren't making a paycheck doesn't mean you aren't contributing to society. The greater good crap makes you sound like a communist though. Living in America is supposed to mean freedom for me and thee.
Oct 9, 2008
I sincerely hope this is one of your 'monkey dance' posts and you are not serious. If people do not retire, who would perform the hours and hours of volunteer work that is currently being done? Who would be available to sit with your sick parent while you work? Who would be able to bring you food when you are sick or have a death in the family? Who will be home to watch your house and report suspicious activity when you are off working? Who would pay taxes into the system while taking relatively little out? Remember, seniors do not have children in schools anymore using tax payer dollars...they do not drive to work everyday using the roadways that are paved with tax dollars. In my community, we pay for fire protection directly so that will still have to be done when we retire...we will still pay library fees and taxes...still pay property taxes, sales tax, state and federal tax.

By working now and saving for my eventual retirement, I am showing responsbility - something that seems to be lacking in today's society. I have not retired yet as my husband and I contribute to the upkeep of our families since Social Security is not nearly enough to live on these days. We help our siblings and their children also...we were taught that you help your own family and do not count on the government for support. Social Security that you have paid in over the course of your working life is not a charity or entitlement...it is the government getting into your business and forcing you to participate in a 'savings' account as it were. Many years ago, people were told that it would take care of them in their old age. Over the years, it has been raided and abused to where it is in serious trouble. Twenty years ago my generation was talking about what bad shape the Social Security system was in and would it be there for us. As you can see, our elected officials have done nothing in the last 20 years to change this perception and when boomers like myself retire, it will be a big burden on the system. My husband and I do not count on that as a major portion of our retirement money but we have paid into it and should be able to draw it out. Do you think I should not be able to draw money out of my 401(k) that I've paid into all these years just because I have 'plenty of money'?

There is already a mistrust factor between the younger generation and the seniors, do not contribute to this by suggesting that seniors are a burden on society. Remember, they worked to support their parents and Social Security payments to those who needed it just as we support our older generation. The younger generation should not expect a free ride in this society any more than I did. And just because I choose to retire from my existing job, does not mean that I won't work or volunteer somewhere else. I truly believe that you stay young and healthy by getting among all ages in society and contributing in some manner and hope to be able to do more of that when I retire from the every day job.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 9, 2008
Oct 9, 2008
How can we convert old people into energy? Somewhere in that idea is a "fossil fuel" pun.
Oct 9, 2008
I'm going to play the cynic here.
1) The whole reason the retirement age was invented was to limit the labor pool when we had a lot of people without jobs. Seems like it may be a useful thing in the future except that:

2) Social security is going to be bankrupt by the time most of us retire so the official retirement age will be somewhere around 150.

3) When the baby boomers start retiring bad things will happen to the stock market. Remember that supply and demand thing? What happens when lots of people start selling off stock for their retirement? What happens then when everyone else sees this? Again, people will have to put off retirement just because they lack the funds.

4) This leads to even more labor in the market and again by supply and demand we all make less.

5) Of course, we can all still look forward to the pandemic flu which will wipe out all the elderly and many of the rest of us solving all these problems.

Oct 9, 2008
You have made a huge assumption in this article. You say that the problem is people not be useful contributing members of society after they retire. You have wrongly assumed that most of these people would actually be useful contributing members of society BEFORE they retired. Look around!
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 9, 2008
If I retire when I plan too and have the money I plan to, I will because I planned to do so. And, trust me, I'll pay plenty of taxes in the form of 401(k)/IRA distributions that equal income, capital gains taxes, and sales taxes on the things I'll buy. I don't plan on receiving social security payments. I don't believe the system will still be here. If I do receive them, bonus. But, we will pay taxes on those benefits once they plus other income is greater than what it takes to fund an ant colony with food for a year. Plus, since most older people own a house, they pay property taxes. So, they are not mooches of local public services.

Now, I agree with you on people that have not planned for retirement. Why should we 'let' them retire on our time? If they get money, they should work for it in some way. Of course the ways can be more community orientated, but there shouldn't be a free ride unless they are just physically unable to do something (even manning a local library or something can be done by most people). I guess that's why I think social secutiry should become a welfare system, which is more of a stigma that most people want to stay away from anyway.
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