Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is Retirement a Good Idea?

I recently read an article on baby boomers (like me) postponing retirement. Both the article and the comments were interesting. Some comments, as always, were pretty far off base:

The baby boomers are the ones that ruined this country and put it in the position that it's in. When they entered the work force there were so many jobs open due to the deaths from WWII. Then they trashed the economy. NOW they won't or can't retire! There are so many younger people trying to provide for their families with young children who can't find jobs because these baby boomers won't retire. It's not fair!

This is sad, simply because it’s embarrassing just how little so many of us know about our history. The first baby boomers were born in 1946—children of the soldiers that returned home after World War II. World War II would have been over for about 18 years by the time the first baby boomers graduated from high school (the accepted birth years for the baby boom generation are 1946-1964). In addition, deaths from World War II were a relatively small factor in post war labor shortages. The United States lost a little over 400,000 soldiers out of a population of over 130,000,000 in World War II. That’s only a population loss of .3% (granted, mostly men of working age), not enough to have a severe impact on employment rates. Other countries, though, lost much higher proportions of their population. Poland lost more than 16% of its entire population in the war.

Other comments were much more perceptive:

It really irks me when people with interesting, non-physically demanding jobs (i.e. journalists, economists, politicians swilling at the public trough, etc.) tell Americans that they shouldn't retire until they are 70 or older. They seem unaware that millions of aging Americans work physically demanding, mind-numbing jobs -- jobs that become more unbearable as the workers get in their sixties.

No question about it, some jobs are hard to keep doing when you get older. Any job that requires physical labor and manual skills—plumber, roofer, carpenter—is going to become difficult by the time you reach your sixties. The second part of this statement is much more problematic to me. Many jobs are mind-numbing, while exerting a relatively low physical demand. I think it’s wrong to characterize those jobs as unbearable when you reach your sixties.

I don’t think anybody deserves a free ride. Work is a duty so long as you remain capable of doing it. You consume so long as you are alive; if you can you need to produce. So even if you don’t like your job, then I don’t have much sympathy for paying for your retirement at a relatively early age.

The final lesson in this discussion to me is that almost nothing in life is more important than finding work that you want to do. Other than, perhaps, sleeping, you will spend more of your life working than doing anything else. Find something you enjoy and you will be happy. If you don’t, then you will only be counting the days towards your death when you no longer need work.

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