Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Death of Retirement?

Skimming the PBS Newshour site, since I haven't been making their podcasts a priority like I ought, I encountered the introduction for their soon to begin series Will You Work Forever? and it piqued my curiosity.

The series promises to use personal profiles of Americans who reentered the workforce after retirement or never retired at all, coupled, I expect, with Newshour's trademark warm touch, to look into retirement in our changing economy and the effect of the broken housing bubble on people's best laid plans.

Personally, I'm terribly young to have and opinion on retirement and I don't know how relevant my opinion can really be but here's my take, I'm poor, I grew up poor and practically everyone I know is poor. I have little practical experience (outside of what I've gleaned from the media) with retirement. Not only that, I started college pretty late in life and, not to put too fine a point on it, have worked my ass off to get to a place where I can have a real, interesting, grown up career, whether it's in the medical field or not. I can't see myself working said career for only a decade or two before saying, “Ciao, I'm off to travel the country!” or whatever it is that retired people do. Besides, do people ever actually stop sciencing? Why would you do that? I'm going to continue with my impression that scientists stay in their labs until they expire from either old age or an experiment gone wrong.

Anyway, I personally never expected to retire, but it leads me to wonder for those who do or did look forward to retirement, is this a symptom of the death of the middle class. Is that even a thing or was it made up by the media? Has the divide widened to the point where a person is either set for life or must work until they die?

I suppose, historically, retirement for the middle class and the poor is a novel idea. Not so log ago (before the Great War? Correct me if I'm wrong please.) the poor expected to work long hours either at home, in the fields or, after the Industrial Revolution, in factories from the time they were old enough to walk until they were too old to get around. Was the time period where retirement was a thing only a brief honeymoon period in history that's now coming to an end or does its loss signal a deep systemic problem in our society and/or economy?

I also question whether this extended time in the workforce will be allowed by employers who may not want the burden of older, sicker workers (though time missed could be made up by an older employee's greater experience and efficiency) and more expensive health insurance premiums. Will his shift ultimately help our economy by providing more efficient, experienced workers or will it cripple it as those of retirement age hold jobs that would have otherwise passed on to the next generation?

I certainly look forward to the new series.

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