I am spending time with a financial planner since I turn 65 this year. While my medical costs will be covered by Medicare, how I pay for the rest of my expenses is up for grabs. I am very, very grateful that I will have medical coverage. But I wish I had done a better job of figuring out how to keep a roof over my head, gas in the car, and a few extra bucks in the bank.
What I don’t have is a pension. I did not succeed in putting aside money in a 401K, as much of my life I worked in settings that were either non-profit or public-sector. Unfortunately, I did not spend enough years in my various government jobs to become vested, so I am left with a small monthly social security check and some savings. Definitely not enough to see me through my 70s and into my 80s in the style I would like.
Other aging Americans are even less fortunate. Many have to find work in order to survive. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, older Americans are “projected to have faster rates of labor force growth annually than any other age groups. Over the entire 2014–24 decade, the labor force growth rate of the 65- to 74-year-old age group is expected to be about 55, and the labor force growth rate of the 75-and-older age group is expected to be about 86 percent, compared with a 5-percent increase for the labor force as a whole.” What does this suggest? The growth rate reflects a need to work because many older adults don’t have enough money to live on.
The number of elders at or below the poverty line is increasing. According to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, in 2016 half of all people on Medicare had incomes less than $26,200. Key findings in a report published in March of this year, suggest that elder women, persons of color and those who have health issues experience increased poverty rates as they age. Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer services in the government sector available to aging adults, and there is decreased funding of services in the private, non-profit sector to address this issue. For many of these older Americans, minimum wage jobs are essential to be able to afford medications, food, and day-to-day living expenses.
The recent budget passed by Congress with its promised tax reform will affect aging adults in poverty particularly harshly. Funding for rental assistance, social safety net programs including Meals on Wheels, and transportation were cut or eliminated. Elders living in rural communities may be even harder hit, since funding for these programs is traditionally limited to begin with.
What needs to be done to address these issues? Much more than just allocating money. A fundamental shift in how Americans view aging adults is required. If we continue to see older Americans as “drains” on our economy that cost money because of “entitlement programs” such as Social Security and Medicare, we are demonizing a source of wisdom and potential working capital. We are also breaking a promise made by Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson to insure that all Americans can count on there being a safety net to see them through their old age.
While not all older Americans want to work or have the physical stamina to work full-time, those who do want to continue working should be looked upon as valued assets in a growing economy. Since the trends are away from life-time employment, hiring an older worker to do part-time or seasonal work makes good sense. Older workers bring with them skill sets and a work ethic that enhances most work environments. Companies who hire older workers report gains made in job satisfaction and in safety. Productivity actually increases on teams where older workers and younger workers share tasks.
Reasons for not hiring older workers typically focus on them being inflexible, unable to take instructions from someone younger, and lacking in computer skills. Such arguments are based in stereotypes and projections rather than actual data. Challenging the stereotype of older Americans being computer illiterate needs to be undertaken on all levels, but most especially by older Americans!
For many aging Americans, having a job reflects both a strong work ethic and a financial necessity. Finding that place where you feel you are making a difference, contributing to your community, and bringing home some money for your efforts often is at the foundation of feeling good about yourself. It makes you feel engaged with life.
It’s not like there isn’t work to be done in our communities. Students need teachers. People need housing. Gardens and public spaces need care. Cars need repairs. Customers need customer service. Busses and cabs need to pick up passengers. Crops need harvesting. Food needs processing. Deliveries need to be made. Dogs need to be walked. People need to be cared for.
Will older workers command the same salary as when they were in the workforce? Will they be in the same jobs? The answer is “no”. The trend is for part time employment at low hourly wage.
What’s my plan? Win the lottery? Find me a millionaire to marry? No, I plan to work as long as I am able. I am lucky because I am a psychologist and have a private practice. I am, therefore, not subject to age-ism by my employer. Of course, self-employment has its challenges, but so far I am holding my own.
We all want to remain productive across the lifespan. Having a purpose to get up in the morning makes life more exciting. We just need to come together in a collective effort to make things better for all of us.