Friday, August 26, 2011

Oldsters lining up to work past 65? Yeah, right!

Two recently delivered magazines (Saturday Evening Post, Mother Jones) have articles featuring radically differing claims. Which is to be believed, and which is most likely PR for the gullible set? Well, if truth is what's on the line, as opposed to PR and telling people what they NEED to hear instead of what they want to hear, I will put my money on Mother Jones (especially in light of the excellent exposes done the past two years including one on the Gulf oil spill and how the toxins are still around!)

In the cheery, upbeat Post article, 'The New Retirement', we're informed that "Americans are increasingly choosing to stay on the job after age 65 and money is only part of the story". Well, who'da thunk?

On the next page, we find the photos of two obviously well-provided for seniors at the top who were wealthy enough to actually retire early and buy an 85-acre farm where they "pursue their passion" by stuffing bouquets of flowers into canning jars and selling them. Well, nice work if you can get it! And, the couple informs us they're blissfully happy doing all that canning and insist: "If our health holds out we'll do this as long as we can".

And my first reaction, to this well-heeled but dumb pair is, WTF!? The rate of human knowledge is doubling every 4 years and you choose to waste your remaining years canning flowers!

But that's just me and maybe my own priorities are wrong. I happen to think that in a limited life time humans owe it to themselves to learn as much about their world and cosmos as they possibly can. And that doesn't mean wasting time canning miniature flower bouquets if you don't have to!

Anyway, the next lady we behold is a well-coiffed exec of 71 who absolutely has NO intentions of leaving her job as senior vice president of career services at the Ayers Group. Hell's Bells, I suppose if I was pulling down a 6-figure salary for just typing in data at a nice shiny new laptop every day I'd want to keep doing it too! And the lady exclaims:

"I just wouldn't know what to do with myself if I retired!"

Well, uh, how about reading a few books...not just romantic pot boilers from Jacqueline Susanne, but areas of astronomy, psychology, philosophy to broaden that bean counter brain? How about even traveling to other places, like Switzerland, or Sweden or India? To gain something beyond a parochial perspective?

But evidently the thought never crosses her brain. She's obviously content to remain in her little corporate cubbyhole until she croaks.

Now, basically I have nothing too much against such people - as I'm sure they'd also regard what I do as "wasting time" from their frame of reference. Nor do I have any major objections to the article for showing their lives. Where I have objections is when the article - not just this one but ANY of these 'work past 65' efforts (also common in the AARP Bulletins) - portrays the working and happy lifestyle as the one relevant to ALL seniors, by assuming everyone wants to work past 65. And worse, that all the jobs most available to seniors are the spiffy jobs! (Or self-created jobs.)

In other words, I object to propagating myths! To be judiciously fair then, the article ought to not merely have shown these comfy older folk ensconced in their comfortable and inviting domains of total control, but also those like the 101 -year old Wisconsin widow, shamelessly run over by a Walmart shopper last year while acting as a greeter. For it is a high crime against the elderly to make them think they can all be like the "passionate" and independent flower canners or the Ayers Group exec, and not end up like that 101 year old, slaving away to make ends meet (which is the only reason I can see for anyone working past 65 as opposed to doing a million other things now possible!)

But those down-scale work opportunites aren't reported! All we're told in the Post piece is that "the portion of Americans aged 65 and older in the work force has increased markedly in recent years". It goes on to state that in 2010, "an average of 17.4 percent of them were in the labor force". But it doesn't say the next thing: that 96% of that 17.4% senior labor force is buried in minimum wage-scut Walmart greeters, or janitors, or low level store clerks or ...whatever Walmart's fancy euphemism is for them...oh right: Associates!

Now, again, if elderly folk need to work in such positions to keep body and soul together that is one thing, but I can't see a person voluntarily doing it when so little of life is left and so much is to be learned.

Meanwhile, as an antidote to this cheery codswallop, there is the Mother Jones piece: All Work and No Pay on how corporations have actually sped up their processes to wring more productivity from workers, while not increasing their pay. Slavery anyone? Well how about indentured servitude? There are actually 3 articles in succession, all equally depressing - especially the one disclosing how older workers' health is seriously threatened by the speed up at one large company. (The other facts, data can be seen in the graphic included)

So, given this, WHY would any elderly person choose it, unless they absolutely had to? The trouble is, reading the Post puff piece, one gets the notion that work is one big joy ride for most elderly and they only need ask and they can "telecommute" from home! Not bloody likely! All the main corporations that might hire older workers, demand face time..they want it so they can see you while you slave away mopping the floors, cleaning up the spills on aisle 8, and so on...and especially so they can take out 'Dead Peasant's insurance' on you. Thus, if you croak while cleaning up one of those spills, they collect all the $100k insurance they've taken out on YOUR life! (And oh, btw, they ain't telling you about it!)

Yes, telecommuting IS possible! My wife does it, from Colo. to Maryland! But, she had to have worked over 12 years in the Columbia, MD office, often 14 hours a day, to have proven her worth enough for them to have trusted her to work on her own time. Now, at 70, she works because she enjoys it, the remuneration is good, and she "keeps her brain engaged" (testing software).

But make no mistake, 999 out of 1000 companies aren't just going to hand an oldster a check for working from home!

Another canard in the Post article is that "most work in America today is physically easier than it was a generation ago". This is true overall, but again, that doesn't mean it's easier for most senior citizens! Bear in mind despite all the hype over valuing "worker maturity" 90% of corps. still adhere to a Fortune 500 White paper issued in 1996 asserting that most workers deliver "diminishing returns" after age 50. Thus, most corporations aren't going to welcome the average elderly person into a high control, well paying job in this low aggregate demand environment. In fact, they're more often the first let go because it costs too much to sustain them on company health insurance plans.

Bottom line: Yes, there will be a certain lucky segment of those past 65 who will find work that is engaging, and in some way stimulating while it helps pay the bills. But most of the work available in the current recessionary environment is of the Walmart greeter or mopper or lower grade associate type. Not that that's bad, since when you need money anything will do. But that for a person who can afford to travel and improve his or her mind, to choose such a job instead, is total bollocks.

And maybe a sign of premature senility.

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