Not only would working longer keep people healthier and happier, it would ease the strain on Social Security and Medicare, boost our sagging economy, and improve the standards of living of millions of Americans. We’re not talking about octogenarians hanging in there, just about adding a few more years to the current average retirement age (63 for men, 62 for women). Yet widespread ageism across the job spectrum makes this scenario unlikely.
“It’s the only answer, but don’t count on the story turning out that way,” says Alicia H. Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. “It’s going to take a lot of education and changes in policy and attitudes.” She’s quoted in a New York Times article titled “For a Good Retirement, Find Work. Good Luck." So is Peter Cappelli of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, who compares the situation to job discrimination against blacks and women in the ’60s. “At the time, it was widely said that the ‘market will take care of it,’” he observes. In fact, anti-discrimination laws and changes in social attitudes had to pave the way. Many employers today are reluctant to hire, retain, or retrain workers over age 50. Some have a cut-off at age 40.
Yet the Times article concludes with a portrait of Judy McCrickard, a 64-year-old administrative assistant in Racine, Wisconsin, who’s kept her skills up-to-date and whose boss is urging her to stay on until she’s 70. And an article in the AARP Bulletin titled “‘They Won’t Let Me Retire’ — Hot Jobs in a Slow Market” counters with a portrait of Hendrika deKorte, who agreed to stay on at her job as a surgical nurse at a Dallas’ Medical City Hospital if her hours were halved. "That’s OK," says 82-year-old deKorte. "I love my job."
Yes, skilled nurses are in great demand. But despite the lousy economy, many fields face worker shortages, including health care, financial services, technology, social assistance, education, public utilities, transportation and engineering, as well as trades like carpentry, electrical work and plumbing. Workers with the right skills, or who are willing to learn new ones, should be able to work as long as they’re willing and able — past 62, 72, and 82. As the AARP article reports, when Medical City Hospital threw an 80th birthday party for deKorte, her supervisor checked with the parent company to see if she was its oldest employee. Not even close. At 190 hospitals nationwide, no fewer than 60 employees were older.