How Long Can Seniors Work?
I’ve discussed how traditional pensions are going the way of Best Buy and RIM, and the related looming financial problems for Baby Boomers entering their senior years. By sheer numbers, there will be plenty of ageing Americans seeking senior housing in the next decade. But the numbers will not be as big as expected since a lower percentage of older people will be able to afford decent accommodations on their own. As I have pointed out, instead more seniors will be living with their children and/or grandchildren to make ends meet—they will have insufficient savings and inadequate pensions. Social Security will certainly not cover enough to meet most basic needs.
Now the comeback to all this is that older Americans will work longer. Instead of retiring at 60 or 65 to enjoy the golden years —the grand plan envisaged a decade ago, they may have to work until 70 or 75 to maintain financial peace of mind. People are certainly living longer— more active, engaged lifestyles can certainly include productive and remunerative work. But let’s examine some of the trends that will prevent many seniors from working into their later years:
Technology: Older folks tend not to be as adept on keeping up with ever changing technology, which increasingly dominates the workplace. Fifty somethings already find themselves displaced by younger workers who can navigate the web world with greater proficiency.
Healthcare Costs: Sure people are living longer, but the older they get the more they spend each year on doctors and drugs to keep them going. Employers naturally favor younger work forces which put less stress on their benefit plans. And while older workers can be more dependable, they are actuarially more likely to experience medical “down time” events, which employers obviously want to avoid.
Aches and Pains: While seniors can handle desk jobs without too much physical impact on ageing bodies, there is a reason you don’t see too many 60 or 70 year olds working in manufacturing plants or on construction sites. Joints start to give out and various maladies start to kick in—not to mention steady loss of muscle strength. Blue collar jobs are for younger people.
Minimum Wage Jobs: You used to see seniors manning cash registers in stores alongside high school kids, but many of these low paying jobs are disappearing too thanks to self-service scanners and other new devices—technology again. Seniors will again get aced out.
Built-in Age Bias: For all these reasons and others, the workplace has an engrained age bias, which creates hurdles for older workers. Is it likely that we’ll see new laws barring age discrimination for 60 and 70 year old workers when young people are experiencing their own difficulties finding solid employment opportunities? It’s hard to believe corporate America would support such legislation. Will AARP (the R is for retired) get on the bandwagon?
Business people and real estate folks, in particular, should start paying attention to the escalating plight of more seniors. More people will age in place unable to afford to move or relent and move in with their children. Others with expensive lifestyles in expensive places may be forced to move to cheaper locations or downsize their number of homes. Either the city apartment or the summer home may have to go. And the senior housing builders may have to consider new business models directed at less affluent customers.
Any way you look at it, the golden years will be picking up a lot more unwanted tarnish.