Too Positively Old to Retire?

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about Social Security and Medicare entitlements. The real question is: how much do those of retirement age really need and to how much are they entitled?

To the many who have paid in for decades and have been promised a secure future, this is a dumb question; they deserve to get what they were promised. Of course, the plot thickens when they start to factor in the idea that by getting everything they were promised, their children and grandchildren may not have any hope for security, or for that matter, retirement. So where do we draw the line?

In my opinion, there has to be a little give and take. Perhaps we can advise our union representatives at AARP that protecting our security means more than just taking care of us, it means providing for future generations as well? I remember when I was going to college many years ago. My freshman year, I qualified for some social security funding because my father was retired. By the time I was a sophomore, social security had stopped providing this benefit to children of retirees. And you know what? I agreed with it, despite the extra burden it placed on me, because it seemed that social security should be directed at its main objective—providing secure retirment for people that paid into it. As a college student, I had plenty of years to pay back my loans and make up the difference, but retirees did not.

Nowadays, it often feels like no one wants to give up anything regardless of whom it affects. We may have taken this idea of entitlement too far. After all, we live in a capitalist society, not a socialist state. Thank God. And let’s face it, doing nothing is not an option.

The US budget in 2010 was $3.55T. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid make up nearly 25% of that total. Even a small modification in this area means hundreds of billions of dollars in savings for the country on an annual basis. Added to the economic reality is the fact that most people reaping the benefits of Social Security today and tomorrow will, if things remain unchecked, receive in excess of their contributions plus interest. Was this the original intent of the program? Should it be? Doubtful.

I’m not pinning the blame for the current situation we’re in on those over 60; they can’t really help the fact that they were born during a Baby Boom and are living during a time when longevity is at its peak, although they have proven time and again that they can influence policy.  The real reason we’re in the situation we’re in is because politicians are more interested in getting re-elected than making the tough choices they are paid to make. In this case, they waited way too long to assess the problem and take action.

While it’s not easy, and no doubt many politicians who vote for changing the current system will NOT get re-elected, the truth is that the sooner the modifications are put in place, the less drastic they will have to be. For example, during the recent economic decline, many companies laid off good employees. Some made the cuts early on; others waited until they had no other choice. Those who made the decisions early laid off fewer people and cut benefits less. They are generally better positioned for the rebound since they retained more of their hard-to-replace talent. It’s the same with Social Security and Medicare. The sooner we address the problem, the less it will hurt in the long run.

Of course, this begs the question: are most people over the age of 65 in financial shape to weather a hiccup in their promised compensation? Certainly, the market crash two years ago left many reeling with uncertainty. For those that left their money invested, they are seeing it rebound, but that boding feeling of uncertainty lurks.

The good news for Baby Boomers is that, because they are the healthiest generation to date (they have stayed active and fit later in life and will most likely live longer than their parents), they can continue working long past traditional retirement ages. Many are opting to do this because they find it gives them purpose and a social outlet, among other things. My neighbor lady didn’t retire until she was 78 years old and would have continued still if it weren’t for knee replacements. Warren Buffet says he’ll work until he’s 100. One of the oldest siblings in America still works on Wall Street, even though he is 104.

Working later in life may look different. Hopefully, by this time, you are doing a job you feel passionate about and doing it on your terms—part-time, project work, only in a consultative or supervisory role. Or perhaps, in the case of people like film director and former mayor, Clint Eastwood, and comedian Rodney Dangerfield, this is the time of life when you are doing your best work ever and getting opportunities you never imagined earlier in your career.

Of course, we need to ensure that there are enough jobs for everyone of all ages in order to make this model work. Otherwise, the younger generations won’t be mad at us for stealing their retirement; they’ll be mad at us for stealing their livelihoods. That’s why it’s in everyone’s best interest to create a strong economy with maximized demand and lots of opportunities to work regardless of whether we’re building a family or just too positively old to retire.

What are your thoughts on retirement and Social Security? Are you relying on it for your future? How long do you plan on working? And what do you suggest the President should do about the entitlement programs? It’s time to weigh in on this weighty subject.

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6 Responses to “Too Positively Old to Retire?”
  1. Terry Hagertty says:

    For some reason, I’ve always been pessimistic about ever collecting any Social Security. Even in my twenties, I assumed it was too good to last. (I’m 54) Consequently, I’ve decided to never retire. And anything I do get from Social Security will be a bonus. And why do people keep calling Social Security an entitlement program? It’s an insurance program. If you live long enough, you get to collect on it. If you die before 65, the money you put in goes elsewhere.

  2. Wow. I hope we collectively grow a backbone and do what needs to be done.

  3. Marilynn Cronin says:

    Everyone in this country needs to develop a backbone – the present retirees – myself included – haven’t gotten an increase in 2 years but congress has (even though living costs – food fuel) have gone up. Congress ruined SS years ago when they voted to use the SS funds and never put them back. I am confused too because I always thought of SS as an insurance policy (not a ponzi scheme) and even Medicare – I have paid into SS since I started to work and Medicare since it’s inception. I still pay for Medicare because money is taken out of my SS every month and I also have to pay for drug and supplemental insurance policies and income tax on my SS. Even with our personal investments it can be tight sometimes but we expected that. The government has got to get its act together – why are we giving so much money overseas, even to England and France – we need to take a hard look at that. We need to help those at home who need it and not give to those who are too lazy to get off their butts and work. We have generations of welfare recipients, many on unemployment insurance, who won’t take a job or even look for one until their benefits run out. I’m happy the government is finally doing something about medicare fraud – now we have to cut back on our ethanol program so we have enough corn for food and start drilling for oil, build refineries, etc. until we can make bio-fuels economically feasible in this world economy. Everyone will have to work longer to pay off our national debt; I know many seniors who are going back to work part-time to make ends meet and pay for medicine. My husband and I gave up vacations, cars, and other luxuries so we can save as much as possible for our retirement. We still watch our pennies but I don’t know how much longer that is going to work. the US is going to start looking like Greece – “entitlements” for everyone is going to be going out the window. Sorry I’ve ranted so long but most seniors had a strong work ethic and didn’t grow up looking for handouts – things have got to change for everyone.

    • Thanks for your comments, Marilyn. It’s obviously a management issue. I believe our representatives should get the same healthcare coverage and retirement benefits as the rest of the country (i.e. THEY should have social security not government pensions.) THEN you’d see real change fast. And i agree, Americans need to rediscover what made America great in the first place—a backbone. And our leaders need to inspire this in the people by example and not by petty partisan fighting. In other words, they need to grow up, and bring the country along with them. So how can we, the more experienced generation, help them do this, everybody? How can WE be part of the solution?

  4. M D Van Horn says:

    Go ahead and retire! Get in shape both mentally and physically, and go be a child again. Get rid of your excess material burdens, live lightly with frugality. Don’t look to anyone but yourself and spouse/partner to share the adventure, OR lend a hand. As Lance Armstrong says, “Live Strong.” Squeeze each day for all it is worth. I did at 53! Now 64 and I would not change a day of the last 11 years!

  5. admin says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Mike. I’m glad you like it. And I’m always open to new topic ideas so let me know if there’s a specific issue you’d like to see us cover.

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