Alan Chartock | I, Publius: Forced retirement puts needless strain on Social Security

GREAT BARRINGTON — We Americans are living longer lives, but some aspects of our culture that are concerned with aging are not keeping pace with our extended life spans.

Let's take Social Security. Back when this incredibly important program was implemented, 65 was a ripe old age. If you made it that far, you were lucky. We all had to pay in and if you didn't make it to 65, well, tough darts — you were out the money you had put in.

Now most people will make it and as a result, the system is sputtering. We can argue that the real reason Social Security is in trouble is that the fund we have all paid into has been robbed blind by the crooks in Congress who use what should have been a segregated fund to balance the budget. Now bums like Speaker Paul Ryan complain that Social Security is going broke and argue that we need to raise the eligibility age again.

That just ain't right, and it's not the only insult to those who grow older.

Take the expectation that when you reach your 60s or 70s, you should retire. Many people want to stop working for any one of a number of reasons. Some people get bored. Some people's skills desert them. Some people want to try something new.

My wife was a superb teacher, professor and writer. After years in the classroom, she wanted out and is now doing art and writing full time. I'm 76 and retired from the State University and running a fairly huge public radio network. I have no intention of retiring, even though many of the doctors whom I depend on to keep me alive are no longer working.

Some governmental units and law firms force you to retire. In Massachusetts, judges have to retire at age 70. We would have all been a lot better off if they had been allowed to stay put. That's just ageism.

Look at Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Thank God for her. She's in there fighting against the forces of evil on and around the Supreme Court. Who knows what good the state judges in Massachusetts could have done had they been allowed to stay in place. Some of these judges make a lot of money in law practices. Making them retire is bad for their self-esteem and some have to try to get back that precious sense of self-worth.

Of course, it is sometimes true that those subordinate to an aging incumbent are anxious to have their chance at bat. That can be quite problematic for someone who doesn't want to leave. Also problematic are those retirees who want everyone to do what they do. Quite often, these are well meaning people who just can't grasp the basic fact that each person ought to be free to do what is good for them

I expect the problem with some of these folks is that they are insecure because they are not as fulfilled in retirement as they thought they would be.

There is also the matter of money. For years, many people who worked in the United States had defined pensions. For the most part, those good old pension systems are gone. Much of this is because people change jobs more frequently. So we have moved to 401(k) or 403(b) plans, which are far more of a crapshoot for those who have investments in the stock market.

Many Americans have to keep working beyond retirement age in order to make ends meet. Often those who are forced out don't have enough to maintain their former standard of living and some are forced to take "retirement" jobs that don't pay what they were earning before they retired.

When you take into consideration all of these factors, it seems like a no-brainer — we should just let people do what they want to do.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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