The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Forced to work after age 65

Apr 2, 2001

An increasing number of workers are staying at work after they hit age 65. Today, one of every eight people over 65 is still working. This reverses a trend that went from the end of World War II until 1985, with each year a smaller proportion of workers still working after age 65. But for the last fifteen years, the number of older workers staying on has increased each year.

Of course, there are some people who do so because they want to work. It makes sense that they contribute to the production of society and be with their friends at work. But the majority of workers who continue say it's because they are forced to, because they can't afford to retire.

In the decades following World War II, an increasing number of workers were covered by pension benefits, which added to their Social Security checks. But in the last couple of decades, companies have gotten rid of and eroded pension benefits. This has hit the poorest paid workers the sharpest. In 1979, 44% of workers without a high school education had pension coverage from their current employer. By 1996, only 25% did, a very substantial decline.

In addition there is the question of retiree health insurance. Up to a decade ago, many companies funded health care for their long-time workers who retired. Like pensions, these programs have been cut way back. With the explosion in the costs of medical care and drug prices, many retirees can't afford their health care.

The "authorities" tell us that people are living longer. And it's true that people are living longer today than they were a generation ago. But it's equally true that the way jobs are organized, the majority of workers never got to do what they wanted when they were working. No wonder they want now to go fishing, hunting, walking or taking part in outdoor activity; or to travel to other parts of the country, or even abroad and see parts of the world they've only seen on TV; to take up classes, start painting, do sculpture, attend plays or see interesting movies; spend time with their children, grandchildren and old friends.

Older people from the upper classes enjoy doing many of these things without financial worry. So should workers who put in decades of their adult lives contributing to the functioning of society.

It's outrageous that the richest country on the planet doesn't provide them the full means to retire when they are still physically and mentally fit.