An article at CNN Money spotlights an important and trend: older Americans are increasingly choosing to work longer and delay retirement until they have accumulated greater savings:
A quarter of middle-class Americans are now so pessimistic about their savings that they are planning to delay retirement until they are at least 80 years old — two years longer than the average person is even expected to live.It sounds depressing, but for many it’s a necessity. On average, Americans have only saved a mere 7% of the retirement nest egg they were hoping to build, according to Wells Fargo’s latest retirement survey that polled 1,500 middle-class Americans.
It’s easy enough to moralize about this. All those Boomers knew that time was passing by; while some needed every cent they could scrounge to get through the day, most of them made choices not to save. They wanted a nicer car, a fancier college for the kid, a bigger house in a greener burb.None of these things are bad in themselves and there is nothing wrong with wanting them. But the essence of maturity is to balance future needs against present wants and take appropriate actions; millions of Americans haven’t done this, and they are now looking at the results.It isn’t as bad as it looks. Work is a natural part of life; for thousands of years the only people who didn’t work were either under five, extremely ill, or dead. My grandmother used to tell a family legend about a ninety year old matriarch who could no longer get out of bed; she insisted her family put hen eggs around her so she could incubate them with her body heat. That, I suspect, was apocryphal, but one of my great-aunts was still mowing her lawn with a push mower in her nineties. She only quit, I’m told, because her children begged her. They were getting too much criticism from people in the neighborhood who couldn’t believe that her children were too cheap and selfish to hire someone to mow her lawn.I don’t favor physical labor for nonagenarians, but having more people work longer in life is not a bad thing — for the country or for the people themselves. Many of our nation’s economic problems could be solved by getting more people to work later in life. This is no terrible injustice; many people now remain in school well into their twenties — two generations ago many entered the workforce at sixteen. Paying for ten extra years of school when young with ten extra years of work at the end of life seems like a fair bargain. Changes in the American economy and the shift away from manual labor have made this bargain more attractive still. While it would be wrong to expect workers to continue to perform backbreaking labor in their late seventies, America’s economy is becoming increasingly service-based and much of our work can be done part time and from home.Economic arguments aside, this is also good from a social standpoint. Work is not a horrible chore one endures just to pay the bills, it is one of the core things that constitute a healthy, active, and fulfilling human life. The fact that older people can continue to work into their seventies and eighties should be celebrated — greater engagement with the world in your old age is a positive thing. Modern medicine has made tremendous leaps in lengthening our lifespans; that precious of gift of life and health should inspire us to service and work for the common good.The failure of so many Boomers to save may not just reflect fecklessness and folly. People have been making a calculation that in fact they can work much longer than their parents and grandparents did. They haven’t saved for a thirty year retirement because at some level they didn’t think they would have to. Many of them were right, and they will now continue working that extra ten or so years their better health allows. (Others will need help due to physical disability; we need to make sure this system is ready to cope with a large increase in people who need disability insurance as the working population ages.)In any case, my generation must get used to a working life that for many of us will go on past 65 or even 68. It’s not a tragedy, it’s a fact — and it’s not even a particularly harsh or sad one. This is simply living life on life’s terms, and it’s something we all have to do.