February 1, 2014

Impoverished thoughts of retirement.

I'm reading this, in the NYT:
Although the average age at which current United States retirees say they stopped working is 61, up from 59 in 2003 and 57 in 1993, a January Gallup poll of 1,929 members of that generation found that 49 percent didn’t expect to retire until age 66 or older.
My first thought was: I'm surprised that the retirement age has been that low. Only 61 now, and not that long ago it was 57?

But then I see "retirees say they stopped working" and perceived the subtle merger of the idea of deliberately retiring (because you want and can afford it) and the involuntary loss of work (which becomes a permanent condition of retirement). And it's an average, so they're adding the people who keep working because they like it or because they need the money and who can't be forced out (because age discrimination is illegal) with those who lost their jobs and wanted to replace them but failed.

Those who become unemployed — some time in their 50s, perhaps— how do they get by? Are they using unemployment compensation? Do they get on disability? Do 2-earner families adjust to 1-earner income? It seems to me, that average number includes a lot of people who are not what we think of when we hear the term "retirees." They are the unemployed who turn out to be permanently unemployed.

I wonder how many people who "stop work" before their mid-60s are making a real choice and how many are unhappy about their condition. The article talks about economic realities and also the psychological satisfaction of continuing to work as one ages. There's nothing at all about the desire to be free of paid labor, the love of a life structured around things other than work, other than one quote from a lady who says "Retire? I don’t know what that would look like... I don’t play golf."

The alternative to a paid job is a stereotypically old leisure pursuit: golf. People keep going in their jobs — or suffer from joblessness — and can't properly imagine how to live other than to work? What would I do? Golf?! 

It's funny to me that the Baby Boomers think like that. (Do we really?) When we were young, back in the 60s, the talk was of finding a way to live that did not involve working for living. Naive, yes. But it was a youthful dream. A subsistence commune, perhaps? We read "Your Money or Your Life" — which showed how you could (and should) escape from paid labor early in life so you could proceed to do the things you love.

When did having a job become the meaning of life for Baby Boomers? How did we get hoodwinked into being such docile laborers in the economy, when we were going to tune in, turn on, and drop out?


Ron said...

I think I'll wind up taking early withdrawal on my 45 caliber pension.

Ralph Hyatt said...

"When did having a job become the meaning of life for Baby Boomers? How did we get hoodwinked into being such docile laborers in the economy, when we were going to tune in, turn on, and drop out?"

Probably right about the time that the rent was due.

Freeman Hunt said...

Ron, I hope not!

Shouting Thomas said...

I'm having a hell of a good time in retirement. Like most people, I sort of drifted into retirement.

I could be working, but I'd rather not. No, I'm not rich. Working was always just something I did for money. Even the music biz.

I'm playing music, recording, taking care of my health (a big issue), babysitting my granddaughter and spending a lot of time with friends. Old friends need a lot of attention. So many people alone and struggling with physical disabilities.

The Boomers went through quite a few stages. Sure, when they were kids, they did the bit about questioning the workaholic obsession. When childhood dreams of what we were going to be fell apart for most people, a vengeful mood set in. Work seemed like all there was.

I have zero desire to return to work. I'm contacted by recruiters every day. There are so many more satisfying things to do than to go to sit in an office or a cube and write code. When it gets warm, I'll spend a lot of time outdoors, gardening, bicycling and motorcyling.

I know how little time I have left. My focus now is on simply enjoying life and contemplating my relationship with God.

Shouting Thomas said...

By the way, Althouse, I never got "hoodwinked."

My artistic hero is Henry Miller. Sure, I liked the sexual escapes aspect of his work, but what really moved me about Miller was his insistence on owning his own life and time.

I never became entranced by the "career" BS. Work was always just about making money in the shortest possible time so that I owned my own life and time.

45 years as a freelancer and contractor, with a couple of very short stints as a employee, which I hated. I became a very clever hustler, belonging nowhere and everywhere simultaneously.

Not all of us bought into the "career" BS.

Rusty said...

Easy there Ron.

madAsHell said...

Hope and Change is here!!!

rhhardin said...

Old people can't find jobs because their health costs are higher for the employer group plan.

Being a self-employed contractor is a way out except it's been made harder to do that legally, the IRS determining that it's a sham self-employment and you're probably just trying to get out of paying withholding taxes.

And now Obamacare hits you anyway.

Hagar said...

The economy is not "recovering," but slowly sinking, i.e. the "growth" is less than the population increase, so the construction industry is still languishing, and design firms have enough trouble just to stay afloat and find some work for their young and middle aged marrieds to do.

I have found something "to do," but it is boring, probably useless/unappreciated, and does not pay anything at all. More iron pyrite than "golden years."

ddh said...
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ddh said...

My brother moved into the house he inherited from our parents, leaving Charlotte, NC, for the coast. He is a RN, but he could not find a job because the local hospitals--fearing the compensation formulas in Obamacare--were desperately trying to trim their labor costs. So, he now considers himself retired.

The kicker is that in his county Obamacare offers only one plan that charges more than $1,000 a month in premiums with an annual deductible of $6,000. Due to Obamacare, he could not find a job, and he cannot afford medical insurance. Thanks, President Obama!

Otto said...

Definitely golf.
You boomers are nothing more than privileged brats. Probably the most useless generation in American history. All whine and no substance.

surfed said...

As a just retired school teacher at age 60 I am all set up. Lots of savings via a Deferred Retirement Option Program, Social Security in another year and a half. What do I fill my time with? My folk rock combo, surfing, sailing my rare one of a kind in America English sailboat, traveling to cool out of the way places, my military and maritime art work, writing, and daily Cialis. Life is very, very sweet. Fuck working for the Man, I'm on Surfari to stay...cause ya' know Althouse...I do have an ocean.

Shouting Thomas said...


Good for you, but what's up with the Cialis?

My Johnny is still Jumping Up without the crutch.

Sam L. said...

It's the NYT. Why would you expect a carefully researched, in-depth analysis?

Ann Althouse said...

If everybody had an ocean...

FleetUSA said...

The issue is that the Labor Department artificially drops people from the unemployed list after only 12 months of unemployment - assuming they have given up. That's why the work force is so small now.

William said...

Just sleeping late in the morning, every morning, is one of life's most profound satisfactions. Sleep is an inexpensive, healthy leisure time activity.

rhhardin said...

Social Security in another year and a half.

If you have long-lived family genes, consider deferring taking SS until 70 and live off savings in the meantime.

They raise the monthly payout the longer you defer up till 70.

You're better off with the higher payout the rest of your life than the lower payout today, if you can afford it.

Basically that maximizes the annuity aspect of SS and minimizes the welfare aspect.

surfed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
carrie said...

The average retirement age is skewed by all of the public employees who can retire at age 55 with their pensions. I am in my late 50s and everyone I know who is around my age and are retired were fire fighters, police officers, teachers, and state employees. They all have pensions that are fixed as opposed to 99 percent of private employees who have profit sharing or 401(k) plans that don't have a guaranteed annual payout.

surfed said...

@Everyone - I'm taking SS early. That along with my teacher retirement and I'm starting Life Part 2 with almost $70K a year (including a yearly 3% coa). This way I can enjoy life while I'm still able to. A modern 2 bedroom on the ocean/mountains in Ecuador with a cook, gardener and maid is about $2K a month. The reference to daily Cialis was sorta' a joke though the significant other might disagree. And the allusion to Surfin' USA by the Beach Boys was inapt. A more fitting song would be Surf's Up from the 1970 album of the same name by the Beach Boys.

The Godfather said...

My retirement accounts took a real hit at the end of the Clinton administration, but by then I was committed to retiring at age 60 (2003, if you care). Then, at the end of the Bush administration, my retirement accounts took another hit. Needless to say, I'm looking to 2016 with great interest.

I've continued to work part time (as a lawyer) in retirement, partly for economic reasons, but mostly because I like it. Because it's part time, I'm able to spend time with my grandchildren, and I have devoted myself to various "good causes" that mean something to me.

One of the really evil results of the bad economic policies of the current administration has been that people who should have had sufficient security in their later years to enjoy the fruits of 40 years of labor, have to worry about whether they can just maintain a decent standard of living in retirement. To an earlier generation, Social Security provided a level of security in old age that their ancestors never expected, and we should never forget that great accomplishment -- which doesn't mean we can ignore the fact that the model doesn't work any more. Quite the contrary!

But the talk about the challenges faced by retirees today is so intellectual and bloodless, it makes me want to scream. The policies of this administration are causing real pain to lots of people (or "folks" as Obama likes to say). If people if their '50's are "retiring" because they can't get a job, or are declaring themselves disabled, that is a huge public policy disaster.

Richard Dolan said...

Retirement is such a strange idea, possible only in a land of excess. It's not that work, even less career, provides life's meaning, but rather that doing is essential to being. Even stranger is the idea of retirement as a retreat into self, a withdrawal from productive activity in favor of pastimes of various sorts. Althouse dumps on golf, but she could just as easily have picked sailing, surfing, biking, you name it. What's so wonderful about a second childhood? I can see cutting back on the time spent working, but retirement isn't all that attractive if it amounts to abandoning productive activity altogether.

bbkingfish said...

"You're better off with the higher payout the rest of your life than the lower payout today, if you can afford it."

Depending on the individual's circumstance, this may be really bad advice. The only person for whom this statement is definitely correct is one who, at the age of 62, is reasonably sure he will live well into his 80s...in other words, no one.

Scott Gustafson said...

"The issue is that the Labor Department artificially drops people from the unemployed list after only 12 months of unemployment - assuming they have given up. That's why the work force is so small now."

Nope. From the BLS web site:

"Effective with data for January 2011, the Current Population Survey (CPS) was modified to allow respondents to report longer durations of unemployment. Prior to that time, the CPS accepted unemployment durations of up to 2 years; any response of unemployment duration greater than this was entered as 2 years. Starting with data for January 2011, respondents were able to report unemployment durations of up to 5 years."