Michael Maiello's picture

    The End Of Retirement

    A few years ago I was at the Investment Company Institute’s annual conference where I watched a presentation by some company called Age Wave about the future of retirement.  Age Wave is run by Ken Dychtwald, a businessy guru “thought leader” type who sells consulting services to companies that want to take a long view of demographic changes.  My take is that I’m pretty much skeptical of all this stuff, having met myriad futurists and gurus in my time as a journalist and having learned that none of them are reliable trend predictors and that many of their greatest successes are accidents.  Example: one guy told me he worked on GM’s OnStar system in its earliest stages.  The idea of the original team was that urban blight would become so bad and carjackings so commonplace that city drivers would want a direct line to the police at all times.  Well, OnStar obviously serves some very useful purposes and is a successful product but it really took off not in response to increasing urban and societal decay but as a luxury item in a time of increasing wealth.


    So, skeptical digression accomplished, let’s get back to the Age Wave and why I’m bothering you about it now.  The presentation I saw was all about the future of retirement, by which Dychtwald means there isn’t going to be one, at least not in the way your grandparents enjoyed it.


    Dychtwald’s arguments, without my criticisms, go like this:


    1)      Retirement is basically a new concept.  For most of history people worked until they no longer could and they died.  Outside of Western Europe and the U.S., many still do.  So people should probably stop expecting that our current definition of retirement is anything like a norm, it isn’t.

    2)      Pension plans (public and private) are underfunded.  Existing obligations will largely be met but companies and to a lesser extent public agencies are not taking on new guaranteed pension obligations.

    3)      Risk has been transferred to workers in the form of 401(k) plans and the like.

    4)      Workers haven’t saved enough to enjoy the kind of retirements that fixed income pensioners do.

    5)      People are living longer, beyond the benefits of decreased infant mortality.

    6)      People are healthy and able to work for longer, assuming jobs are available to them.

    7)      Companies actually need these people and their experience.  Whether or not they know that is another issue.

    8)      We never said these people had no savings.  They have some, just not enough to stop working.  So part time, contractual and flexible positions might be the answer.  The new retirement will involve moving in and out of the workforce as needed or maybe maintaining some level of part time work up until the last moment.

    9)      In this environment the insurance part of the financial services industry, including life policies and annuities becomes more important than the brokerage and money management parts.  Because this is your “retirement” life: part-time job, Social Security, annuity payments from your savings.


    I let this go without much comment because I think we’ve discussed the problems with this before.  It’s better for office workers than coal miners.  Companies don’t hire older workers, even part time, this notion of moving in and out of the work force at will seemed more plausible in a time of 6% unemployment than in a time of 10% unemployment.


    But I’m going to set aside the practical arguments for this post because it’s covered territory.  Instead I want to get to the moral argument that Dychtwald is making and has been making since the late 1980s which is, as I recall him putting it, is that we don’t want sit on the porch and shuffleboard retirements.  It’s not just that we’re living longer, but that we’re living healthier and so we will want to be more engaged with the world.  We’ve all seen how retirees can become distant from the culture – their clothes become dated, they watch Murder She Wrote, they don’t get the kids and their crazy music, they want you to get off of John McCain’s lawn… do the hyper-hispter, hyper-media, hyper-hyper 20 and 30 somethings of today really want that?  Well, says Dychtwald, getting up and going to work is what keeps you engaged.


    Dychtwald is very much a marketer.  His success is partly a self-branding success and his consulting services are often used by companies trying to figure out how to sell something more than what to sell.  One thing he’s selling, and I think you’ll hear this a lot around the deficit debate, is the palatable end of retirement.  You want to go to work.  It’s better for you.  Would you rather be at the sales meeting or playing bingo at the senior center?


    It’s almost convincing.  Partly because it’s right – an engaged retirement is probably better than a slow withdrawal (though I do morbidly wonder if that might make death a little more of an emotional shock – is some withdrawal also a preparation for the ultimate separation?).  But why should this mean a part time job?  Why should this mean, after a lifetime of working for the man, more work for the man?  Shouldn’t it mean writing books and building web sites, traveling and composing music?  In his presentation, Dychtwald talked about seniors working as Wal-Mart greeters.  He insists that this is something seniors love to do.  I’ll leave it to you to decide if you’ll want to do that.  But Wal-Mart greeter is his worst case scenario anyway.  What he’s really selling is the fantasy that you’ll retire but maintain a lucrative consulting or part time relationship with your former employer.  Well, it does happen.  It also happens that people get pushed out as they age.  It’s frankly more hope than plan.


    This kind of stuff is why I think we have to go back to the beginning of our work and retirement discussions.  When it comes to some jobs, strong unions were able to negotiate fair pension agreements based on time of service.  Work 25-30 years and you can retire with full benefits.  These agreements are roundly criticized today but they actually serve a moral purpose.  You spend a substantial portion of your life devoting your energies to the service of others and you get the assurance of some time to pursue your own goals.  People get mad because if people get these jobs young they can retire in their early 50s and then take their pensions and work part time (as Dychtwald suggests they should do anyway) but they’re mostly angry because most people don’t have this arrangement, not because there’s a moral problem with it. 


    Dychtwald says retirement is something new that we shouldn’t count on.  I say it’s an achievement we shouldn’t give up on.  Kind of like air travel.  Of course there are powerful forces at work who would rather have cradle to grave work.  Can they sell that to the citizens.


    I actually think they can.  The Boomers are part of the problem.  See, everybody wonders how they’re going to retire.  Their 401(k) balances are too low.  But they will also get full Social Security benefits and many of them have pensions too.  Why?  Because the switch from pensions to 401(k) plans was a process, not an event.  In some cases, people got both pensions and a 401(k) option.  In some they got smaller pensions and a 401(k).  It’s mostly Gen X and younger who were never given a pension in the first place.  The Boomer retirements are funded in four ways: pensions, savings, social security and the kind of profitable after-retirement work Dychtwald talks about.


    Gen X, Gen Y and the Millenials have already lost the pension leg and will probably take a blow to the knee of the Social Security leg.  So they will have savings, less Social Security and work.  They are the generation that will never retire, particularly if they have kids to put through school.  Their only real hope will be inheritance.


    It’s a big deal that’s really not being discussed and it’s all tied to the deficit commission, the Social Security debate and income inequality.  Every time you hear somebody squawking about “how will the boomers retire?” remember that there is an effort in place to basically end retirement for everyone younger.


    I find this more than a little insane since we cannot put everyone to work now. Even those with advanced degrees are having a hard time and this situation will only get worse. What of the new younger college grads if the their older types keep working ? What then ? And what of more and more areas becoming more and more automated requiring fewer and fewer people to do the same job ? It's Meshugeh.

    This is not the 1950s or 1960s or even the 1970s where an assembly line of people and a bevy of engineers were required to build a car or make a TV set or assemble a computer.

    I don't understand the appeal of retirement. It sounds boring. Given the choice between earlier retirement versus more vacation time or shorter workweeks, I'd take with latter without hesitation.

    For some of us it means being able to do what we want with out having to think about it being profitable or making some idiot happy.

    That's the answer right there, Genghis.  Though your observation about retirement seeming boring and not really something to look forward to (unless you can retire wealthy) is one of the reasons why the whole institution will be very easily attacked.  A retirement spent sitting around the house is probably stultifying and unhealthy and not preferable to a more active life.  But that just means you need a better retirement, not necessarily a job.

    I bet that the vast majority of American retirees sit around the house.

    And when the vast majority of them sit around the house, they really sit around the house.

    Automatic rimjob.

    Or was that rimshot?

    I donno.

    I just wanted to crete a dilemma for the site moderator.

    And Destor.

    Not the ones I know. Your view of retirement is pretty negative and based on false assumptions. The only retirees I know who sit around the house as you say are those who are either physically incapable of getting out or those with wads of money and live in expensive gated retirement communities and even those people do a bit of volunteer work.

    While I'd say Genghis' view is based on assumptions, it's difficult to assert that they're necessarily false. Of the retirees I know, it's about 50/50 (which would negate Genghis' assertion that it's the vast majority, if my sample were representative). The truth is that none of us know to what degree our samples are representative, unless you have access to some real data. (I'm not trying to suggest you don't have such access, but I wasn't picking up that you did.)

    I have access to real data, but it's classified for security reasons. All I can say is that between 41 and 59 percent of retirees spend between 23 and 77 percent of their waking hours sitting on their asses.

    Ha ha.  Genghis, you're funny!  "Retired" is such a ridiculous word, as I and many of my fellow retirees often say.  What does it mean beyond not actually working for someone else anymore?  If I "sit around the house" it means I'm usually on my computer learning, researching, reading, writing, fooling with photos, playing mah jongg or Zuma, keeping up with people I know across the country and closer to my own back yard--that sort of thing.

    I can't say I know anybody my age (or even younger) who just "sits around the house".  We're busy, we're active, we're doing all of the things we were doing when we were working, minus the working part. 

    Honestly, you young'uns.  You're a riot.

    Oh, and I walk at least two miles a day, rain, snow or otherwise, so it's not all just sitting on my ass!

    Sit around blogging, don't they?

    Woooo, blogging!  What nerve!  Those damned old people. . .blogging!

    Geez Genghis , last time you voted, didn't ya notice the age of those poll workers?  Surprised

    According to a 2002 AARP survey of employed workers aged 45 to 74:

        * The majority (69 percent) of those interviewed plan to continue working beyond traditional retirement age.

        * More than a third (34 percent) of the total sample said they would work part-time for interest or enjoyment.

        * 19 percent said they would work at part-time jobs for necessary income.

        * 10 percent plan to start their own businesses.

        * 6 percent would change careers and work "full-time doing something else."

        * Less than a third (28 percent) of older workers said they would not work at all after they reach retirement age


    "You can get Social Security retirement or survivors benefits and work at the same time"



    July 2008

    Older workers

    Are there more older people in the workplace

    Between 1977 and 2007, employment of workers 65 and over increased 101 percent, compared to a much smaller increase of 59 percent for total employment (16 and over). The number of employed men 65 and over rose 75 percent, but employment of women 65 and older increased by nearly twice as much, climbing 147 percent. While the number of employed people age 75 and over is relatively small (0.8 percent of the employed in 2007), this group had the most dramatic gain, increasing 172 percent between 1977 and 2007.



    Jimenez Christmas...Genghis is beginning to sound positively republican with his comments on retirement.

    Old people are parasites. You know what we need? Death panels!

    We need Jeb Bush.  He'll put a stop to those death panels.

    Like Logan's Run maybe ?

    Changed my mind. You're right. It was this story that done it--turns out this lazy ass took two whole years off a while back, two whole years not working. And when she's working, she's not even up to what it takes out there on the front lines during the season of cheer:


    For me it means doing something useful and creative that is not simply being some sort of corporate robot whose only purpose is to make some other SOB rich.

    When I first moved to Central PA, one of my cycling buddies told me that there were a lot of public service jobs in town that were filled by railroad retirees working for free. I've also noticed that a lot of construction companies keep on the smarter of the older and injured workers in semi-office positions: estimating, inspecting, reviewing drawings, taking measurements, etc.


    Every year I plan to work one more year. At the end of that year I come to the realization that the thing I really don't want to do is to outlive my financial resources, so I plan to quit working the next year. I dropped out early and did some "artsy" things only to wake up and realize I needed to regroup if I didn't want to live out of my van. I was able to start a company which has supported me in a modest manner and gives me some free time to do this kind of thing. in any case I have concluded that when you give up in your mind, the body follows suit, so to speak. So mental outlook is increasingly important as the years accumulate.

    I agree about not giving up your mind, Oxy.  What I object to are people who think that being a Wal-Mart greeter isn't that!

    Right. It's very depressing to think about that image.

    I think one of the reasons why retirees are living much longer is because they don't work until they die. If my parents had to keep working they probably wouldn't be alive today.

    And they wouldn't have been able to do the work they did most of their life anyway. You really think my 75 year old dad could get up five days a week to work in a steel plant 40 hours a week? My mother standing on the assembly line for 8 hours a day? This idea might have a bit of merit if you're a white collar worker but it just doesn't work for blue collar.

    Not everyone is going to be able to get college degrees and sit at desks. Even nurses need to be on their feet for hours and many old people just can't do it. There's not enough administrative posistions to move every worker into admin when they're too old to be on their feet hours a day.

    Sometimes I wonder if the professional class has a clue at all what its like for the worker class. Go do some day labor, get a job on the line, work construction for a while and then people making these suggestions that people should work until they die would have some experience to discuss this subject intelligently.


    I do know the difference between office work and construction work because about seven years ago I started a design-build firm and worked most days in the field doing demolition, hauling, framing, hanging gyp board and installing finish carpentry. And yeah you get tired and acquire a collection of nagging injuries, like when the framing nail shot out of the Paslode, bounced off a knot and ended up in the fleshy area between my thumb and forefinger. I spent one day bending backwards hanging gyp board on a low soffit. I drove home with a sore back and it was so bad that it took me half an hour to get out of the car. I only did that for a year, but I don't complain about sitting in a warm office much anymore.

    Great story, Donal.

    I don't think you have to wonder, Oceankat.  People have no idea.  Which is why I think it's so outrageous when I hear about people who get "cushy" UAW jobs.  Cushy?  Most people wouldn't last a week, even under supposedly insane work rules that make them impossible to fire.  They would cry and quit.

    No destor, I don't want to go there. People will do what they have to do. Just as I did. I think the people reading here and most people would adjust as I did if they had to to make ends meet.

    I think too many just have never worked on a line. They don't know what its like to have your speed controlled by the output of the machine. On your feet for 8 hours, two 15 minute breaks you're paid for and a half hour for lunch you're not paid for. Or to carry 80 bags of cement or shingles, or even just 2  by 4's all day long. Or to spend your whole day banging in nails.

    I've repaired tvs and consumer electronics, programmed computers, installed multi million dollar computer networks, stood on a line making flashlights, high voltage fuses, electric motor coils, roofing and construction, cashier in a mini market, handyman, musician, and stood with alcoholics and drug addicts in the day labor line.

    There's a lot to be learned in working a lot of different jobs, especially when working with the working poor and non professional middle class.

    I, too, have run the gauntlet of occupations...From backbreaking to systems management.  It seems that just about all of the jobs drained some form of energy from me.  To stay on point, when I could no longer tolerate the political back-biting, I went "back to the tools."  I spent the last of my working years (11) working at a Toyota auto manufacturing facility.  I maintained and repaired plant equipment.  Each working day, I roamed among the assembly lines watching the assembly people repeat the same task -- hour after hour -- day after day.  Got to know so many of them.  One assembler was a dentist...there were several registered nurses on the line.  I never felt it was my business to ask why they had chosen the assembly line.  I do know that I could "never" stand in their shoes.  The repetition would have mentally broken me!  Yes, repetitve motion syndrom was a critcal aspect of the injuries those people  suffered and I saw many workers wearing casts resultant from carpal tunnel syndrome surgery.  I held nothing but respect for those assembly line wokers

    Oceankat those jobs sound tough, but unless you worked in a job with The Fabulous Fab (Goldman Sachs Fabrice Touree) ripping off trusting suckers for a meager salary of only $2 million a year (not including bonus), you don't know what tough is!!

    ....here is the 28 year old Fab talking about his difficult year in early 2010:

    "The last week has been challenging for me and my family, as I have been the target of unfounded attacks on my character and motives,"

    Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/money/2010/04/28/2010-04-28_notsofabulous_wall_st_sext_king_a_nervous_weenie.html#ixzz16AcDu7aU
    Fabrice Touree, The Fabulous Fab

    Fab ain't seen nothing yet. Just wait till old people get a hold of him.

    Well, says Dychtwald, getting up and going to work is what keeps you engaged.

    Or kills you bit by bit, alienating you from yourself and everyone around you until the shuffleboard plays you.

    Bingo Moat

    Great phrase  "until the shuffleboard plays you".

    My great grandfather on my mother’s side started work at the age of eight in a shoe factory in San Francisco.  He eventually became the general manager of that factory.  He died at the age of 59, on the job.  I am grateful to him, not because he worked in a factory all his life, but because he took the time for a little selfish pleasure to beget my grandmother who begat my mother who begat me.  It is because of these three orgasms, these three moments of not working, that I exist, along with some other mysterious forces in the universe.  Neither my existence nor its meaning has anything to do with being employed.   


    In the 1970’s the state of California decided that the name “Unemployment Department” had the wrong lilt so they officially changed it to the “Department of Employment Development,” or DED which when spoken sounds very much like “dead.”  So it was decreed that the “Department of Employment Development” would be referred, to, atypically, as the “Employment Development Department” or EDD.  They did not officially change the name.  Meditate on this at level 5 until the next mind meld.

    Retirement is when a robot that strongly resembles a human is killed. Because humans do not consider robots to be "alive" in the first place, killing a robotic servant of mankind is seen as "retiring" a machine and not murder.

    Urban Dictionary.  (I wonder what the suburban dictionary would say?)

    Maybe the word itself is wrong. What I hope one day to have is "financial independence". When I work because I want to--not because I have to--that's something to strive for.

    I have a friend working a job he hates. I already got rid of that by working towards a job that I love (and, yes, it's part luck too that I have this job). If the work that you do is something that you're good at, and something that you like, isn't that halfway there? I anticipate slowing down, maybe, with time--but by then I'll be as efficient as hell. (Reading too much of that awful book "The 4 hour workweek."). 

    I think there's a saying "Do what you love and the money will come." If the saying said, "Do what you love, and do it well, the money will come"--that's more apt.

    Until I read your statements, I always went with your first.  Giving your statement further thought, I would rather be a contented and happy average guy than to be a slave to  an occupation that  I dread  every moment that I perform a task that I detest.  I believe that loving what one does is a prerequisite to excellence.  Doing well is in the eyes of the beholder.  My skills are limited...My love of a task has no bounds!

    heh, I used to work in retail (Target), and the day after Thanksgiving made Thanksgiving a day of dread. it's in times like that that your evaluate your life: "Aren't I supposed to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas?"

    The answer was, yes, I should be able to enjoy the holidays. Besides, I was a crappy stocker.

    Retirement cannot come soon enough for some of us because we are simply worn out by the job we have/had.  I retired just one month short of working 41 years for the same employer at the age of 60.  12 to 13 hour days and nights (6 AM to 6 PM one month and 6 PM to 6 AM the next) under high pressure without being able to walk away for a break just kills you.

    I never run out of things to do while retired.  In fact it never seems like there is enough time.  Off to the YMCA 3 days a week, yard work, I do most of the cooking now, keeping the yard equipment in shape, scanning in those old poloroid pictures before they fade away, I should clean up my woodworking shop so I can walk in it again, it is august and I can't figure why I have only had the boat out once this year, just did a front break job on the wifes car and I should do mine, been here 11 years and never finished the basement and I could build my own cabinets, and why did I agree to do a clinical study for the U of M and have to participate 3 days a week.  Which reminds me I have to get going now.

    If I only had time...

    Great discussion, Destor.  Much here to mull over.

    Great discussion. 

    However, it misses some key elements; namely that advances in technology will enable radically longer, healthier life spans.  The notion of retirement is a concept that restricts us in how we see our lives.  It's not that retirement is the goody we get after struggling to save money while 'working for the man'.

    Rather, we should recognize that, if we are in decent shape and to be around for another 20 years, we will likely like active, healthy lives until age 120+  This is coming about because of the eradication of disease, and introduction of rejuvenation therapies over the next 15-20 years. We as a culture are heavily invested in the notion of aging and decline as inevitable.  If you do some research, you may see that the future will not look like the past.



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