Originally published in Flourishing July/August 2012
When I was growing up in the 1950’s, retirement as we think of it today was a rarity. According to a poll taken in 1950, most workers aspired to work for as long as they were physically able. Quitting was for the disabled and infirm, and so was Social Security. Neither normal life nor the government offered decades of uninterrupted leisure.
But, since 1960, the percentage of men over age sixty-five still working has been cut in half. My own father, who was born in 1917, retired at age sixty-four. Probably due to the recession, average retirement age has risen recently from sixty-two to sixty-four. That still gives the average man nearly two decades in retirement. The average woman can expect even more.
With Social Security, Medicare, and both corporate and public pensions, we have created a large new class of societal dependents. These promised, but mostly unfunded, benefits have already bankrupted dozens of companies, and now have our nation careening toward fiscal disaster. Yet, current beneficiaries are so insistent—perhaps justifiably in most cases—that their benefits be maintained or even increased, that few politicians have the courage to say what everyone knows:
Those payments can’t be sustained much longer.
Our children and grandchildren are working to pay our benefits, knowing full well that the country can’t afford to pay those same benefits to them. And yet, generationally speaking, we have the cheek to question their drive, ambition, and willingness to save.
Frankly, I don’t see any lack of ambition or a lack of a savings discipline among the young people I work with; but what I’m saying here is that it’s time to tell ourselves the truth about what we’re doing to all of our children and grandchildren. If we boomers are to have any credibility with our kids, we’d better be willing to share the burden with them. So, are you sitting down?
Boomer entitlements, specifically our future Social Security and Medicare benefits, will be reduced—or better yet—phased out and replaced entirely in coming years. (See The Chilean Model in our May 2011 issue.)
I’ll have much more to say on the issue of retirement income and boomer entitlements in future issues of this newsletter. mh