Retirement is something that just doesn’t seem to fit into my schedule. I just reached the young age of 59, but I see no need to plan for retirement. I do not want to retire.
In fact, where exactly did retirement originate? Surely, it must have begun centuries ago. I decided to research retirement and began with one of the best history books of all time — the Bible. Interestingly, the Bible only mentions retirement once as it applies to temple priests. In the Biblical era, it seems people simply worked until they could work no longer. In fact, Moses was 80 years old when he began his 40-year adventure leading the children of Israel.
INDUSTRIAL-AGE RETIREMENT IN THE U.S.
Let’s now fast forward to the 1800s — the time when retirement began in the U.S. As industrial manufacturing grew, business and governmental leaders looked to increase profits by replacing older, less-efficient workers with younger, cheaper American farmers and immigrants from Europe.
Dr. William Osler, the world-renowned physician-in-chief of Johns Hopkins Hospital, stated in a valedictory address in the early 1900s that the years between 25 and 40 in a worker’s career are the “15 golden years of plenty.” He referred to workers between ages 40 and 60 as “uncreative.” His statements are interesting because Dr. Osler was 56 at the time, and he lived to be 70. I guess only 57 percent of his life was useful.
By 1920, factories were restricting the hiring of older workers and enforcing mandatory retirement with some small company pension.
When the Great Depression hit in the early 1930s, unemployment rose as high as 25 percent in the U.S. The government realized that by reducing the number of people in the workforce, unemployment rates would drop. One way to do this was to move older workers out of the workforce into a humane and dignified retirement. So, the federal government passed the Social Security Act in 1935 to guarantee income for retirees ages 65 and up. Under this law, retirees would be supported by the next generation.
When mandatory retirement began, there was resistance among older workers. But, in the late 1950s, Del Webb encouraged members of his Sun City retirement communities to enjoy “the good life,” which helped change the perception of retirement.
RETIREMENT: ONE AGE DOES NOT FIT ALL
For me, though, retirement does not fit, and here’s why: My work identifies who I am — I enjoy my work. Why should I stop because of a certain age restriction when I am making a difference? Plus, how can one age fit all? I have taken good care of this old body, and have many more productive years left. Besides, the age 65 was set in a labor-intensive industrial climate which does not apply today.
In my opinion, retirement is a disguised form of age discrimination. Older people are not a burden to society. In fact, they should be called upon for their wisdom and experience.
Unfortunately, many companies do not think this way. A set retirement age impacts employment of workers 40 and up because the employer oftentimes considers how many productive years remain for the worker. That is why today workers in their 40s and 50s struggle to find employment.
There is a song by George Jones which says: “I don’t need your rockin’ chair, your Geritol or your Medicare. Well, I still got neon in my veins, this grey hair don’t mean a thing.”
Like George, I’m just not ready.
Jim Barfield is the president, CEO and co-owner of Luke & Associates, Inc. on Merritt Island. His company, founded in 2004, is a major provider of medical and clinical support services for the military. In addition, Luke provides advis-ory and assistance services in the fields of engineering, research, information systems and medical systems.