July 31, 2006

Boomer slackers.

What's with these guys? Shouldn't they get back to work? Or is one hidden secret of life that your time is really yours, and if you can figure out a way to finance the nonworking life, it's a brilliant and honorable choice?

Ever read this book?

What would you do with your time if you didn't have to use it to make money? Assume you'd have to be frugal. It's pretty obvious what I would do...

35 comments:

Pogo said...

I saw my own dear Dad go through this, starting at age 50. After being laid off from a position he held for a decade (that after 20 years as an industrial engineer in 3 prior firms), he went through a series of jobs, each less lucrative than the one before. Then there was Pops, down from doing deskwork to doing manual labor (carpet cleaning) as hard as any he'd done in college. But he couldn't do it any longer. Then he didn't work at all for 10 years, all the while applying for jobs they didn't give to older men, until his massive heart attack at 65.

So I have mixed feelings about these guys. What have I learned?

1. Sociological studies confirm the obvious: "What happens to a lot of guys who become unmoored from family life, they become unmoored from everything." Very true. But what to do?
2. Older men often lose in the creative destruction of capitalism. But preventing their dismisaal (e.g. France) destroys the economy over time. What to do?
3. A not-small portion of the high-middle-age unemployment comes from men who have been in prison, a virtually unemployable cadre. What to do?
4. Yes, it certainly "raises the question of how they will get by as they age." I think they are counting on the repeated promises of the welfare state, that "they will (not "may") be rescued by the government. Why would they not expect it? What incentive is there to avoid unemployment? what incentive is there to save for old age?
5. A man's self-worth used to be tied to his work. Decades of boomer thought have removed any stigma formerly attached to unemployment. One more reason not to work.

Many questions, no answers. Implicit in the article is a nod to the assumption that it is far better to work, and better to work at any job, no matter how unglamorous. But our culture no longer accepts that rule, it appears. So now what?

Troy said...

So now I'm suppoting my 3 kids plus these a-holes? The steelworker's wife should kick him out on his ear since he is now officially a freeloader.

I ahve real sympathy for the truly disabled and the same thing happened to my Dad who was downsized from a pretty good job with Burlinton Northern in the 1980s. He's been a slightly lower paid security guard ever since for the same company (not BN, but his current employer) for 20 years. How many of these guys bitch about illegal immigration?

We have reached a sad place when honest work is turned down in favor of the government tit -- and that the government tit pays more than good honest work. I'm not sure what the specific answer is, but loafing and slacking does not seem to be it.

knoxgirl said...

I graduated from college the first time around with no clue what to do with my not-so-practical education. I spent a few years doing waitering, retail, and clerical work until I forced myself to figure out--well, basically, the answer to Ann's question (except I needed to be able to make money doing it, obviously). Certainly going on disability did not occur to me!

I sure hope that in middle age I won't consider myself ready for retirement... or at the very least, will be still willing to learn a new skill or interest if it becomes necessary.

I know someone this article describes perfectly. Let's just say I think early retirement is *not* necessarily a good thing...

SteveR said...

Well some people have an unrealistic expectation of what a carrer/employer will do for you. I was lucky to learn, when I was 25, that they will probably let you down repeatedly.

I also don't think too well of those you can work, bailing out with some disability. It devalues the process and is un American to freeload. Some people have real problems and hard luck. They need help. Not some fat ass, who won't do anything. Heck the least they could do is volunteer somewhere.

(gee I'm channeling my father)

Icepick said...

What would you do with your time if you didn't have to use it to make money?

I think I'd follow the Peter Gibbons Plan: "I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything I thought it could be."

Noumenon said...

I'm 28 right now and really wrestling with this. I'm near to losing the $12/hr job I took right out of college. That was a lifestyle choice, it's a really nice factory, but it's over. So now I am all demoralized and not looking forward to pounding the pavement. I am looking forward to being out of work. I could be a stay at home uncle for my sister and live on about $14,000 a year, I'd even have health insurance. I could live six years that way.

After one job goes sour it really sucks to look forward to another one with no break at all. I want to take a year or two off, but that's even worse for your earnings, not to mention the upcoming economic bust. These people just don't have the economic fear that I do.

-----------

OK, ignoring all of the above, what about video games? That's the main thing that makes me want to quit my job. I could start a new life in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and never miss the world I was unmoored from.

----------------

"Older men often lose in the creative destruction of capitalism. But preventing their dismisaal (e.g. France) destroys the economy over time. What to do?"

If you take the article's slant on the statistics at face value, just giving them money and letting them not work doesn't seem to be hurting capitalism any.

------------------

Do any of these people see this as partly a moral choice? I mean, a healthy man who works is creating wealth that feeds children and can help the poor. If you imagine yourself in Jamestown or something you can really feel ashamed of yourself. If it wasn't for that, I would live on half my income up till I was forty and then live on the savings and Social Security until I was 70.

Abraham said...

The knowledge that when I work, I must now carry the burden of all these "disabled" slackers as well as my own needs - well, that makes me less interested in working. This is a dangerous feedback loop. The more people feel as though their work benefits not themselves but undeserved others, the less motivation they have to continue working, and the more demanded of the remaining workers. Shades of Atlas Shrugged.

What's needed, I think, is either renewed stigma against vagrancy, or much more stringent government assistance, or both.

Jim said...

I am 62, not "ready" for retirement, but the policies of this country are forcing me into it. My employed IT buddies are working overtime and not enjoying a minute of it; many law school classmates would not recommend the law to their enemies, certainly not their kids.

I made the mistake of interviewing recently at a patent law firm; they wanted me to work 2500 billable hours! HaHa. I was thinking of 800 billable hours per year. If I worked what it takes to bill 2500 hours, I would have no time to spend all the millions I’d be making. If I went back to work as a software engineer, I would be in a marginal 60% tax bracket within a couple of months, since I am single and child-free, so I’d soon have to quit for tax reasons. In fact, since I started my professional career at age 24, when I had a net worth of $0, I have never been an employee for more than 18 months, having mostly worked on a short-term contract basis. Because of that, I have almost never been entitled to “benefits,” including even a 401K. I have, however, taken an average of 34 weeks (unpaid) vacation per year and see no reason to work more.

I long ago learned to "downshift," which is what these smart guys in the article are doing. If we were to work, we would be subsidizing folks like Troy and her 3 kids, who are firmly attached to the nanny-state tit, living off our tax money that goes to their education and healthcare to the tune of over $30,000 per year. If I could kick baby-making deadbeats like Troy out of the country, I would. Her kids are not needed; we can get potty-trained Latinos without that baggage who like to work! But I’d be happy to work with Troy to eliminate all nanny-state entitlements like SS, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, disability insurance, unemployment insurance, and public education. I could certainly afford to go back to work if they were eliminated.

These guys in the article could make a good living by buying run-down properties and fixing them up. If they move into that property for 2 years of renovation, they can sell and keep up to $250,000 ($500,000 if married) of capital gains tax-free. Tax-free here means no SS or Medicare taxes and no income or capital gains taxes on the labor they’ve expended! They can repeat this every two years. This is a wonderful way to get out of the treadmill of supporting nanny-state deadbeats like Troy.

These smart guys would be smarter still if, instead of even thinking about working, they moved to a place like India or Brazil, where life is far better and far cheaper. The equity they have in their houses is worth a fortune in those countries, where receipt of even $1000 monthly Social Security or disability “benefits” puts you in the top 1% of wage earners in those countries. I find it ironic that our nanny-state, after having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to send me to school for 24 classroom years, including Physics and Law, now makes it almost impossible for me to consider working in any profession except that of informal architect, general contractor, carpenter, cabinetmaker, bricklayer, electrician or plumber, which I do, and where I keep 100% of every dollar earned by the sweat of my brow. Viva Thoreau!

Maxine Weiss said...

"I made the mistake of interviewing recently at a patent law firm; they wanted me to work 2500 billable hours! HaHa. I was thinking of 800 billable hours per year"----Jim

It's not just about "billable" hours. Even if you were to meet that quota, you're not out of the woods.

A majority of those billable hours, must be "new business" acquisition.

Rainmaker.......or get out!

....but only after they've used you up, and you've/they've wasted the best years of your life.

Cruel, huh?

Peace, Maxine

sonicfrog said...

I'd go Squrrel watching :-)

Balfegor said...

The steelworker's wife should kick him out on his ear since he is now officially a freeloader.

My guess would be that the savings he's drawing down are primarily savings he's accumulated over his working life -- provided he helps out around the house, he's no more a freeloader than a stay-at-home wife would be.

Anyhow, what I found most interesting was that, contra Pogo's suggestion:

A man's self-worth used to be tied to his work.

A lot of the men seem to tie their self-worth directly to the kind of work they are able to do -- the steelworker will decline to take lower-wage jobs which he sees as beneath his dignity, and prefers something like a genteel poverty to degrading minimum wage labour. The convict at the end of the article complains that he can't get a respectable job, beyond washing pots and pans. Clearly, these people do think their self-worth is tied to their jobs.

Of course, if they were willing to start out at the bottom, they could make a decent go of it. In the first wave of Korean immigrants post-Korean War (and probably the Vietnamese refugees after that war), you had immigrants who had grown up in their families' ancient homes, with their servants pulling their clothes onto them every morning, waiting on them hand and foot -- you had people like that coming over to the United States, faced with the indignity of having to do menial work like (as the stereotype goes) dry-cleaning, or operating grocery markets, and so forth. And yet they did it -- insulated from the stigma and the shame, perhaps, by their having removed themselves to this distant land -- and have prospered.

Similarly, many highly educated Russian immigrants (professors, scientists, etc.) took low-paid jobs when they came here to the US. On the other hand, I know of one couple where the wife (formerly a full professor at some state university in the USSR) now teaches high school, and the husband -- similarly educated -- simply has not bothered to learn English (or Spanish) and consequently does not work.

Either way, I am interested in how peoples' pride and self-worth keep them from short-term economic betterment. "Man does not live by bread alone," and all that. And I think that part of what keeps them may be the shame of doing it in their own home communities. You can lose face engaging in low-status work among your fellows. It's different when you're out amongst foreigners and savages -- you're freed of the usual social restraints. Not universally (see, e.g. Indian princes in Europe in the 19th century, certain Muslim communities in Europe today), but in general, I think that's so. That's one reason people find travelling abroad so liberating, no? Certainly you have to obey the local customs, but they're alien customs, and you enjoy a certain distance from them. They're not bred into you.

But I find it somewhat sad that none of these people seem to be plugged into family structures that could support them during these kinds of times. Wasn't that normal in the past, even among the very poor?

Maxine Weiss said...

Work isn't supposed to be "fun".

That's why it's called work.

There's supposed to be a distinction.

The expectation that some people have that life is one big romp, or should be.

Nothing but fun, laughs, good times

....because you're are ENTITLED.

Where do those expectations come from?

That sense of absolute entitlement...

....the right to "Amuse Ourselves To Dealth"---Neil Postman.

...because if we are not sufficiently amused, there is a problem!

Peace, Maxine

Finn Kristiansen said...

Jim said...
"...which I do, and where I keep 100% of every dollar earned by the sweat of my brow"


Jim, are you saying you do not in fact pay taxes? Because you, so enlightened, and deserving, do not need the dead weight of paying for the various entitlement programs and ridiculous things like, uhm, public education?

If I have read you right (and I hope not), I trust you will be forgoing social security?

Balfegor:

I think you may be right in that shame among one's peers and home community plays a huge part. I once needed to get a job fast, and pumped gas, but made sure I did it third shift, and several towns away. Around the same time my sister had said to me, "Just work at Dunkin Donuts, I would do it if I had no money".

She could not understand my argument that for men and women it's different. She said, "Hey, I worked as a secretary at Grey Advertising and I felt the guys there were looking down on me, but I did it anyway."

I tried to explain to her that generally men don't give a rats ass what a woman does for a living if they think her a decent person and not a complete twit. No so for women. A man's income is very important to women as it is often indicative of other personality traits (like the ability to take on responsibilties).

**********

If I could do anything with my time, I would be living on the Virginia or Maine coast, or maybe Nantucket, writing fiction. Every now and then, when not at the Lobster Shanty, chatting it up with the fishermen over hot coffee, I will visit the local school or hospital to read to people. Everyone will know my name, and several women around town (Gail the librarian, Shirley the waitress at the Shanty, Monique the Christian stripper) will all be in love with me, and bring me homemade loaves of banana bread and look at me longingly. Sometimes fans of my books will sneak up to my quaint white house with the fence, and toss their bras onto the grass with notes in them like, "Marry me, I love you!". Sometimes the president will call to shoot the breeze and ask me how to fix the Middle East, or discusss an ambiguous plot point in one of my books.

PatCA said...

I know women who do this, too! And who is going to take care of them when they exhaust their savings? Who is going to pay off the second mortage? After they declare bankruptcy it will be the taxpayer, that's who!

People convince themselves that it's their "right" not work in a crummy job. Losing/leaving a job in midlife is dispiriting, true, but why do I have to finance their midlife crisis?

And I don't mind paying for public education because I see a benefit to society for that. I don't see what I get for the medical care, prescriptions, and housing of people who spent all their money and choose not to work (as one woman I know). BTW she spends her time emailing moveon.org emails to everyone about how "we" (not her, she's not a taxpayer) should pay for PBS and senior medication, etc.

If you build it, they will come. Yes, our disability system is generous, so people will utilize it--we now have people immigrating here to collect it.

MadisonMan said...

If I could do anything with my time, I assume it would be because I'm sitting on a large endowment, and I would spend my time looking for worthy recipients.

I notice that powerball is at $178M -- this althouse post is obviously a sign from God that IF I play this week, I'll win! At odds of 140M to 1 or something, statistically I've won already!

Ann, should I buy your house if I win? The only problem is, except for our neighbor's barking dog, I love my neighborhood!

Jeff said...

Not mentioned in the article or here is what kind of article would be written about midle-aged women who opted out of work and chose tollive off their husbands or disability. Such an article wouldn't be written, it would be another dog-bites-man story.

No on ewould be calling the women "freeloaders", either. In fact, they would probably be celebrated for unshackling themselves from the male-oriented rat race.

PatCA said...

MadisonMan,
Maybe we should have an Althouse pool, and if we win write a new chapter to the study. We are obviously all very skilled time fritterers!

Pogo said...

Re: "...just giving them money and letting them not work doesn't seem to be hurting capitalism any."
I think you might have meant that the subsidization of healthy laborers unwilling to work isn't harmful. I disagree. In order to pay for freeloaders via disability or other forms of , I have to work longer hours just to stay at the same level I'd been at before someone decided he deserved my money more than did.
('Capitalism isn't 'harmed' by anything ...its processes are either followed or they are not. Society, OTOH, can be harmed.)

If he saves nothing for retirement AND contributes nothing more to SSI now, he causes additional harm to the social compact.

Re: "If it wasn't for that, I would live on half my income up till I was forty and then live on the savings and Social Security until I was 70"
Grreat, except that by the time you reach 70, the average age of death will be well past 80.

Re: "Not mentioned in the article or here is what kind of article would be written about midle-aged women who ..."
I'd have to agree. So who has more freedom, men or women?

knoxgirl said...

Well some people have an unrealistic expectation of what a carrer/employer will do for you. I was lucky to learn, when I was 25, that they will probably let you down repeatedly.

Indeed... I think some people make the mistake of looking at work romantically, and when their employer disappoints them, they're like "I'm done."

Instead, they should say "take this job and shove it, I'm quitting this popcorn stand, eat my dust!" It sucks when an employer disappoints you, but for god's sake, use it to go on to something better, it's the best revenge! (for lack of a better word.)

"When one door closes, another opens" is a nicer way to put it. I'm totally rambling, sorry...

Jim said...

Finn Christiansen asked,
"Jim, are you saying you do not in fact pay taxes? Because you, so enlightened, and deserving, do not need the dead weight of paying for the various entitlement programs and ridiculous things like, uhm, public education?

If I have read you right (and I hope not), I trust you will be forgoing social security?"

Finn,

Yes, I am saying I do not pay ANY taxes on the gains up to $250,000 every two years attributable to my labors to fix up my principal residence for sale. Of course I pay sales taxes and the real killer, property taxes, of which over 50% goes to miseducating the local kids.

Of course, being a guerilla libertarian, I not only take every penny owing me by "entitlement," but I have also learned to game the nanny-state system. If all Americans were to game the system as I have learned to do, thanks to Law School training, we could bring it down in no time.

David53 said...

"Work isn't supposed to be "fun".

That's why it's called work."


The above statements bother me for several reasons. Most career advisors tell you, more or less, to find something you love to do, make that your career and you will not see your work as just a job.

Some people can do that, most of us can't. For those who don't see their job as more than just work when is the proper time to quit work, is 55 too early? Does it depend solely on your financial condition or do other factors need to be examined also?

My Dad is 83 and a stockbroker, he has outlived all of his clients but he still goes to the office whenever he can. He fell and broke his hip in the Spring and it is literally killing him that he can't go to work everyday. He has more money than he could possibly spend but he has no interests other than work. He tried to retire 10 years ago but he just couldn't do it, he grew up during the depression and he lives to work.

I would retire tomorrow if my wife would let me. I’ve earned and saved enough so I don’t need social security, my wife has a great job and better IRAs than I do, we really don’t have any financial concerns. Work for me is just a way to earn money, I would love to read three or four books a day, learn to play the piano, travel, or just raise miniature pinschers. Is it indeed far better to work at something you don’t really enjoy, retire, or to work as my Dad does until you die?

Icepick said...

David53 wrote: "Most career advisors tell you, more or less, to find something you love to do, make that your career and you will not see your work as just a job.
"

Office Space covered that ground, too.

[Peter, Michael, and Samir around copier]
Peter Gibbons: Our high school guidance counselor used to ask us what you'd do if you had a million dollars and you didn't have to work. And invariably what you'd say was supposed to be your career. So, if you wanted to fix old cars you're supposed to be an auto mechanic.
Samir: So what did you say?
Peter Gibbons: I never had an answer. I guess that's why I'm working at Initech.
Michael Bolton: No, you're working at Initech because that question is bullshit to begin with. If everyone listened to her, there'd be no janitors, because no one would clean shit up if they had a million dollars.

dmc_in_washington said...

I took 11 months off after college and circled the world on my parent's dime. I saw Southeast Asia and most of the world's surviving Seven Wonders. And you know what? I was bored and restless after six months. Today I'm working in my chosen field and am more satisfied than I ever was at 23. While we all daydream about not having to work, I think indulging your interests -- reading, cooking, whatever -- can quickly grow tiresome without the backdrop of work to treasure them against.

Maxine Weiss said...

Whatever happened to the Protestant Work Ethic?

I'm not sure where anyone is getting that they have a perfect "right" to 24-hour bliss.

You don't even have a "right" to happiness.

No sir.

You have a right to the "pursuit" of happiness....

.....after you complete your 12 hours of toil in the factories and boiler rooms.

You can do all the pursuing you want, on your own time....

....after you finish the necessities of life, like regular work, doing the dishes, doing the laundry, surfing the net, making comments on the Althouse blog....all day long...

---you know, all the really important tasks that need to be completed...

...and then you simply "pursue" the perfect bliss!

That's how it's done.

Peace, Maxine

Meade said...

I don't have time to read this entire thread. I have to get back to work to pay for my kid's tuition, the mortgage, and payments on my former wife's Audi. But I remember reading this back when I was sixteen and thinking, 'not a bad idea.' Apparently, as a boomer, I wasn't alone.

Pogo said...

Work was considered the bane of existence for a thousand years, a curse even, from Genesis ("By the sweat of your face will you eat bread until you return to the ground").

But the miracle of Western European enlightenment was to recognize that work is not a curse at all, but instead allows us to become creators of the world.

On other days, I hate my job, so, go figure. We seem to be a curious mix of a minor deity and Sisyphus. I guess that's why alcohol was invented.

David53 said...

Maxine,

Workin' in a coal mine
Goin' down down down
Workin' in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down
Workin' in a coal mine
Goin' down down down
Workin' in a coal mine
Whop! about to slip down
Five o'clock in the mornin'
I'm all ready up and gone
Lord I am so tired
How long can this go on?

Lee Dorsey via DEVO

Beachcomber said...

For starters, yes, I've read the book. Coming at a time in my life when I was drawn more and more toward a simple (not to be confused with austere) existence, reading "Your Money or Your Life" was one of those "aha" moments when the light bulb really switches on. But the philosophy and approach described in the book don't even remotely resemble the choices and experiences of the indivisuals featured in the article. The book talks about creating sustainable financial independence through questioning consumerism, self-reliance, frugality and low-risk investments. Not scamming the disability system or spending down one's assets or living off someone else's income. And the goal is not to be able to sit at home and do nothing, but rather to have the freedom to do something fulfilling with one's life without having to factor in the need to earn money doing it.

Troy said...

Jim...

I'm not sure where to begin with you... I assume you calling me "her" is either a junior-high football coach trick to draw me out... or you don't know your pronouns...whatever.

I'm not on the government tit and your baby-maker crack has a bit of bitter gay "breeder" smack to it. whatever again.

Balfegor... granted the steelworker is living down his bennies. I had a visceral reaction having to pay a dental visit today and reading about some freeloader (or soon to be freeloader) complaining because his job doesn't pay well enough. I don't want to pay for him. There's nothing wrong with not wanting to pay for him. I've been in enough state prisons (just visiting like Monopoly) to be cured of any Thoreauesque civil disobedience ideas on not paying SS or Medicare or income taxes.

It's inidcative of our culture that these men think it's their right to do nothing -- those that cannot afford it I mean. If Mr. Riga (or whatever his name is) wants to live down his equity, then more power to him. I do not want to pay for him when he's old and sick and he's spent all his money.

If, I had all the time in the world I would travel around 6 months out of each year, read and write and .... I'd go crazy.

Jim said...

Troy,

Sorry to mess with your sexual identity, but you know the post bylines don't give sex of the poster and in English we get the choice of he-him, she-her and it for the singular pronoun.

I admit that if you home-school or private-school your kids, you are not feeding at the nanny-state educational tit, but you are feeding at the dependent-tax-deduction or childcare tit, or some other of the over 1000 tits that the GAO found federal law provides to those who are married and/or breeders, as opposed to childfree singles.

Jennifer said...

My father - a corporate lawyer and former JAG - went through this as well. His company downsized and restructured and most of the legal division was out on their collective arse.

He went through a long period where he was drawing down on his savings, etc. He never NEVER took any money from the government, nor would he.

But, there was a real sense of f*ck this. I served my country. I went to school. I worked my tail off. I raised my family. And for what?

Eventually, he had to go to work as a security guard. Of course, he wrote the most ridiculous reports they had ever seen. Now he runs the security department and is quite happy.

I don't think he'll ever go back to being a breakneck speed, long hour, attorney. I mean, I'm positive he won't.

I can empathize with these guys. I will NEVER slave 80 hours a week on the stock market again. I hope we go through a bit of a revolution in this country where people begin to realize how stupid it is to put your heart and soul and all of your energy into a job - no matter how fancy your job is.

As for the first gentleman in the article, he's drawing down his own savings. His life, his choice.

PatCA said...

"...people begin to realize how stupid it is to put your heart and soul and all of your energy into a job - no matter how fancy your job is."

It's funny how things change. In the 60s everybody fell in love with "career"--especially women, who were taught by feminism that the personal satisfaction of career would make up for the sorrow at a husband and children leaving you. Many boomers woke up at 50 and said, but this job sucks! Even a great job gets tedious after a decade or two.

I hope women your age can achieve the balance that was lacking then.

37383938393839383938383 said...

I would build a shrine to Ann Althouse's feet.

Meade said...

M[a]n ---- Working, [but] Not Wanting Just Any Job

Mr. Coffer rarely curses, but speaking about women, he does. They’ll chase down a guy 10 feet in debt over his head, working at some dead-end job, who’s got a phone and a car, he said angrily.

Actually, it’s probably the lack of plumbing, he was told.

“I love my outhouse,” Mr. Coffer said. “It is a little bit of a challenge in January, but I don’t linger out there.”

Desconhecido said...

I worked until I was 51 and then I retired. My house was paid for, and I had no debts. I receive a pension and health insurance from my last employer -- benefits that I earned through my labor. My savings and investments (financed during my working years) plus my pension total more than twice what I made during my last year of work, and I am not ashamed to be a member of the permanent leisure class, not one bit.

Yes, I'm no longer working and I contribute nothing to the wealth of our nation -- I live off the fruits of others' labor. If you don't want me to do that, stop borrowing money from me and forbid me from investing in your businesses.