Retirement is a luxury we no longer can afford
The e-mails are coming in droves: retirement announcements! In the large government organization where I have worked for four years, PERS-motivated retirements are epidemic. As my older colleagues prepare to retire in their late 50s and early 60s Ñ sensible ages to start one's golden years Ñ it raises the unsettling question of when, if ever, I might retire.
The indicators are not good. Of course, the Public Employees Retirement System will diminish significantly in the coming months. Gone will be the days when workers retire because they make more money collecting retirement income than putting in an eight-hour day. 'Yeah, folks in your generation shouldn't count on Social Security even existing,' one retirement planner says. 'If you people are going to retire, it's going to be completely on your dime.'
'We tell people in your age group that they need to plan on living until they're 100,' another retirement planner notes. 'Of course, living until you're 100 means a significant period of medical frailty, which can easily empty one's reserves. You need to save like there's no tomorrow.' Ironic choice of words, that.
Financial planners now have a computer program that estimates the cost of a child's education Ñ often the major savings initiative that competes with retirement planning. After giving the birth dates of my children, one planner asks, 'What school would you like them to attend?' I mention an Ivy League school. The computer program spits out an estimate: $500,000 for a single four-year degree. Multiplied by my three children Ñ all of whom will be footing the bill for their own damn college educations Ñ that comes to $1.5 million over a 10-year period.
Like many workers in my generation, I probably won't retire. Like the seven-day workweek Ñ inconceivable to us in this day and age Ñ in 30 years the concept of retirement won't exist anymore, either. Workers in my generation will simply work until they drop dead.
Erasing the option of retirement will change our work culture. A new branch of custodial services will evolve. In addition to the usual routine of emptying wastebaskets and dusting computer screens, custodial staff will need to poke those workers who appear to be 'working late' or 'power napping,' who have in reality stopped breathing. Body removal will be an issue.
In a large bureaucracy, there will, of course, be false positives: Staff members who slump calcified at their workstations with blank expressions may just be suffering from low blood pressure, shallow breathing and a loss of idealism.
Ageist sniping will become an even bigger diversity hurdle. Younger staff people will hand off tasks to their 90-year-old colleagues who, because of advancing age, are slower to finish the job.
In addition to perks such as on-site day care, competitive corporations will provide on-site hospice workers and critical care units. Rather than attending co-workers' retirement parties, employees will go to on-the-job funerals. The boss will deliver a 'last performance evaluation' at the wake.
And, odds are, it won't be any good.
Wayne Scott is a writer and social worker who will be 65 in 2029, when the weird notion of retiring will be an anachronism. He lives in Northeast Portland.